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Strengthening Social Rights in a Time of Crisis

Eminent Jurists launch a Call to Action on Social Rights in the European Union : Rebuilding Trust in the European Project

Today, on the 9th of May, also known as ‘Europe Day’, the countries of the EU celebrate the shared peace and prosperity that underpin the European project. This day of celebration was created 34 years ago following the call by a number of European governments to strengthen a sense of European values and collective identity based on the notion of a ‘People’s Europe’. 

Yet more than a decade on from the economic crisis and the roll out of harsh austerity policies throughout the continent, one may ask where this ‘People’s Europe’ stands today?

This is a question that is picked up in a Call to Action issued today by eminent jurists, including former members of constitutional courts, and current or former members of the European Committee of Social Rights and of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

They argue that “It is no longer time for simply ‘muddling along’, trusting blindly that a strong economic Union will suffice to ensure the survival, if not the flourishing, of our common European destiny.” They argue that if the European project is to maintain its legitimacy, then social rights – such as the right to health, the right to housing, and the right to food – cannot be sacrificed at the alter of ‘fiscal discipline’.

This Call to Action underscores the findings of the report ‘Democracy Not For Sale’ published by the Transnational Institute, FIAN International, and Agroecopolis on the impact of austerity on people’s access to food in Greece – perhaps the country that has come to symbolize the sharpest end of the EU’s model of economic governance. The report finds that:

  • Food insecurity doubled during the years of the crisis, from 7% in 2008 to more then 14% in 2016.
  • The share of households with children unable to afford a protein-based meal on a daily basis doubled from 4.7% in 2009 to 8.9% in 2014.
  • The reliance on humanitarian assistance has grown significantly, with at least 200 soup kitchens, food banks and charities operating in 2016 in the prefecture of Attica alone.

With the public launch of the Greek version of the report in Greece this week, it will be a moment to argue strongly for European policymakers to recommit that social rights shall be a priority for the next European legislature.

As Olivier de Schutter, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and one of the signatories of the Call to Action argues, "Europe shall not redeem itself by being modest and by lowering its ambitions: instead, it shall do so by setting the bar high, ensuring that social rights result in shared prosperity and a stronger social fabric of societies. This Call is not a call for less Europe: it is a call for a Europe that is visionary and proud of its founding values". 

Denis Burke, TNI Communications Coordinator
Phone: +31 6 22123908

Sylvia Kay, TNI researcher, co-author of report ‘Democracy Not For Sale’
Phone: +31 624 102 605

Notes for the press:
Please find here the Call to Action in various languages (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, and Greek) here

Full list of jurists who have signed the Call to Action:

  • Prof. Olivier De Schutter (UCLouvain), Member of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • Prof. Csilla Kollonay Lehoczky (Central European University) former member of the European Committee of Social Rights (2001-2012)
  • Prof. Zdzislaw Kedzia  (WSB Wroclaw, UAM Poznan), Member (former Chair) of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, President of the Global Campus of Human Rights (Venice)
  • Prof. Gerard Quinn, Wallenberg Chair (Raoul Wallenberg Institute) & Leeds University, former First Vice President of the European Committee on Social Rights
  • Professor Colm O'Cinneide (University College London), former Vice-president of the European Committee on Social Rights.
  • Prof. Ana Maria Guerra Martins (University of Lisbon, Faculty of Law), Former Judge of the Portuguese Constitutional Court
  • Prof. Niklas Bruun (Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki and Stockholm University), Former Member of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) and the UN CEDAW Committee
  • Prof. Filip Dorssemont, UCLouvain (Uclouvain-Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
  • Prof. Mélanie Schmitt, Senior Lecturer, Université de Strasbourg
  • Prof. Margot E Salomon, Associate Professor of Law, The London School of Economics
  • Aoife Nolan, Professor of International Human Rights Law, University of Nottingham