The Reykjavík Declaration: a step forward for social rights?

The Reykjavík Declaration: a step forward for social rights?

The Heads of State and Government of the 46 member countries of the Council of Europe met for a Summit in Reykjavík on 16 and 17 May 2023. This type of high-level meeting is rare, as it is only the 4th Summit since the organisation was founded in 1949. In the first place, it was the exclusion of the Russian Federation on 16 March 2022, following its armed aggression against Ukraine, that prompted the organisation of this Summit. But it is also a historic opportunity to reaffirm the founding values of the Council of Europe – human rights, democracy and the rule of law – and to revisit its mission in the light of current challenges and new threats. The priorities, strategies and functioning of the organisation were also examined to introduce the necessary reforms and changes.

With this in mind, the Conference of INGOs (CINGO) which is the voice of organised civil society within the Council of Europe, recognised as the representative body of INGOs with participatory status, took the opportunity to address a specific Recommendation to the Reykjavík Summit. In particular, the CINGO insisted on the need to strengthen the European system to guarantee all human rights, both within the European Convention on Human Rights framework and the European Social Charter. Particular attention is paid to economic, social and cultural rights, in the name of the indivisibility and interdependence of human rights, principles recognised by the international community.

While the Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, expressed the hope that the Summit would help “reverse the current backsliding on human rights”, underlining the attention that must be paid to economic and social rights, what has become of the response from the Heads of State and Government regarding the place of these rights in the Council of Europe’s strategy?

The title of the Declaration, “United around our values”, is an immediate reminder of the objective behind the creation of the Council of Europe: to increase cooperation between states to defend the European values of democracy and the protection of human rights. Thus, the attention paid to these “core values” implies considering economic, social, and cultural rights, which are integral to the rights protected by the Council of Europe.

The notable reference at the beginning of §24 of the Declaration to the principle of “social justice”, which is “crucial form democratic stability and security”, underpins all social, economic and cultural rights. The Heads of State and Government are, therefore, fully committed to implementing the social rights guaranteed by the system of the European Social Charter. In concrete terms, the organisation of a high-level conference is planned to define other commitments under the Charter. Defending social rights is thus one of the main objectives of the Council of Europe’s new strategic vision. The CINGO is obviously prepared to contribute to these new advances, as it has done in the past.

In addition to this explicit mention of social rights, the Declaration affirms the need to recognise dignity and equality as the foundation of society. The fight against discrimination will therefore be conducted in an intersectional manner to achieve an inclusive society, free from marginalisation, exclusion, racism and intolerance, taking into account the multiple discrimination faced by vulnerable groups and individuals. These objectives are inherent in social, economic and cultural rights which States must ensure are implemented and respected in accordance with Council of Europe standards. In application of the principle of the indivisibility of rights, an individual’s dignity cannot and should not be split between two spheres: the Council of Europe is committed to consolidating this holistic approach.

An analysis of the Reykjavík Declaration shows an additional focus on economic, social, and cultural rights. First of all, particular attention is paid to education. The transmission of the Council of Europe’s democratic values and cultural heritage to young people is seen as a critical issue. This social approach to education is in line with the promotion of children’s rights (§18), with priority given to the situation of children in Ukraine (Appendix II). The States undertake to ensure the protection of all their human rights, explicitly including their social rights. Measures will be taken to defend the “right to life, to freedom from violence to respect for their family life, to non-discrimination, to enjoy their own language and culture, to social security, to highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, to education and housing, and to access to justice” of the children of Ukraine. The issue of education is more broadly considered in the Reykjavík Principles for Democracy, set out in Annex III of the Declaration. Initiatives and programmes for education in human rights and democratic values are essential for their transmission and sustainability.

The CINGO also proposed and expected climate crisis and environmental protection commitments. In §28, the urgency of the situation is underlined: additional efforts are needed to protect the environment and limit the climate crisis, the impact of which on human rights is inescapable. Annex V of the document is devoted to the Council’s environmental commitments. To this end, the case law and practice of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee of Social Rights are recalled and similarly placed at the same level (§.4). The logical link between environmental protection and the protection of social rights is established. In §6 of this Annex, the Heads of State and Government specify the importance of the landscape for individual and social well-being, from which rights and responsibilities flow. The role of the European Landscape Convention and its impact on the public interest in the ecological, environmental and social fields is thus emphasised.

The role of civil society, which is essential to the proper functioning of democracy, is mentioned several times in the Declaration. The CINGO, with its 300 members enjoying participatory status, is at the heart of cooperation between the Council of Europe and civil society. Finally, the Heads of State and Government call for “further reinforcement of the Organisation’s outreach to, and meaningful engagement with, civil society organisations and national human rights institutions”. (§.40).  

Anna Diaz and Jean-Bernard Marie,
University of Strasbourg

Two years after Porto Social Summit: Bringing pillar of social rights to life

Two years after Porto Social Summit: Bringing pillar of social rights to life

In 2021, the Portuguese government – holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union at the time – set up the Porto Social Forum alongside with the European Commission. The aim of the Forum is to organise a regular exchange between Member States, institutional partners, and civil society on the proper implementation of the European Social Rights Framework. The “European Pillar of Social Rights” was proclaimed in 2017 to set social objectives for the European Union based on 20 principles. 

Since then, the Member States have been working to implement the objectives of the European Pillar, which seem all the more relevant given the current geopolitical context, which reinforces the need to preserve our European social model.

European leaders met again at the Porto Social Forum on 26 and 27 May 2023. Following this meeting, an open letter was drafted and signed by European leaders, affirming their renewed commitment to social justice. 

This declaration was published on the European media network EURACTIV, specialised in publishing articles on current affairs and major European issues. You will find the content of this open letter below: 

Two years after the Porto Social Summit, and a commitment to developing innovative, inclusive responses to present and future challenges, the Porto Social Forum reaffirms the role of Social Europe, creating synergies for the Future of Europe, writes a group of European leaders.

Europe is about people.

It is about workers, businesses and civil society. It is about ensuring a level playing field for people and all companies. It is about creating quality jobs that enable everyone to fulfil their right potential and assuring a decent living for all. It is about fostering opportunities for the younger generations and access to quality services of general interest, including life and long-term care for older persons. It is about equality between women and men as well as rights and equal opportunities for all.

It is about building an economy that is ever more sustainable, ever more competitive, and ever more inclusive, and where social dialogue and collective bargaining play an active role in those positive transformations.

It is about ensuring the participation and inclusion of all people, including those with disabilities, the homeless or the vulnerable. A society where no one is left behind regardless of their gender, social status, age, health, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or origin.

Two years ago, the Portuguese Presidency of the Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the social partners, and civil society pledged to consolidate the commitment already made under the European Pillar of Social Rights in Gothenburg and to pave the way for an inclusive, sustainable, fair and job-rich recovery, while acknowledging that its implementation should be carried out at both Union and Member State levels, and within their respective competences.

The Porto Social Commitment and the Porto Declaration pursued the European agenda, as we renewed the European social contract, committing to further develop innovative and inclusive responses to face present and future challenges.

In early 2022, at a time when the implementation of national Recovery and Resilience Plans was beginning to promote the economic and social recovery after the pandemic shock, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought war to Europe once again.

We are still far from being able to evaluate the full effects of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, particularly on the most vulnerable people in our societies. However, this cruel and illegal act has strengthened the bonds of solidarity between Europeans and compelled us to find answers to the strategic debate around Europe’s influence in the world. It is time to debate how central the European social model and our common social policies are in a wider and stronger Europe.

Today, the European Union is also undergoing major structural challenges with the green and digital transitions, demographic change, a constantly changing world of work and persisting inequalities and poverty, accompanied by a worrying erosion of the middle class. These structural challenges affect not only the countries of the Union, but also those whose efforts and ambitions are aimed at joining this project.

In this context, the Porto Social Forum held today, a biennial initiative promoted by the Portuguese government with support from the European Commission, in close cooperation with the European Parliament, and involving the social partners and civil society, marked the second anniversary of the Porto Social Summit, creating an opportunity to strengthen the debate on the importance of the social dimension of the European project.

It did so by acknowledging our social model as an advantage at the global level and by highlighting – in the framework of the European Year of Skills – how robust policies on skills, education and training can create better employment and swifter integration in the labour market and foster social inclusion, and consequently boost the resilience and competitiveness of the EU´s economy and society. It further reflected on how to use the most suitable tools, while respecting the principle of subsidiarity and limiting the administrative burden on small and medium-sized companies.

At the same time, it highlighted the importance of an integrated anti-poverty strategy against the multidimensional issue of social exclusion and of access to essential services for all people, especially children. The effective implementation of the European Child Guarantee is a vital component to ensure the success of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Education and training are not lost expenditure, but a smart investment in human development. Europe must expand its leadership in the frontiers of knowledge, and the development of new technologies. At the same time, the best technology is only as good as the skilled workers who can install and operate it.

Individuals must be empowered to embark on lifelong learning, and SMEs and larger corporations must have the talent they need to thrive.

Therefore, it is clear that the EU’s economic prosperity goes hand in hand with its strong social dimension. We must give greater visibility to social rights and reinforce the assessment of social standards and upward social convergence as part of a sustainable socio-economic governance anchored in tripartism, at a time when our Union is facing a pivotal moment.

Two years after Porto, we renew our respective commitments in the Porto Social Commitment and the Porto Declaration, and our will to maintain the spirit that created it.

Together, we will keep bringing the principles of the Pillar of Social Rights to full realisation.

The future of the EU is its people and must be social.


Ana Mendes Godinho, Minister for Labour, Solidarity and Social Security, Portugal

Agnes Jongerius, Member of the European Parliament (on behalf of President Roberta Metsola)

Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen, Minister for Employment, Denmark

Claude Haagen, Minister of Social Security, Luxembourg

Dennis Radtke, Member of the European Parliament (on behalf of President Roberta Metsola)

Dragos Pîslaru, Chair of the EMPL Committee, European Parliament (on behalf of President Roberta Metsola)

Eleni Gioti, Secretary General for Employment Development and acting Secretary General for Social Solidarity and Povery Fighting, Greece

Esther Lynch, Secretary General, European Trade Union Confederation

Evika Siliņa, Minister for Welfare, Latvia

Frank Vandenbroucke, Minister of Social Affairs, Belgium

Georges Engel, Minister of Labour, Employment and the Social Solidarity Economy, Luxembourg

Harry Kyriazis, Chair of the Social Affairs Committee, BusinessEurope

Heather Humphreys, Minister for Social Protection, Ireland

Hubertus Heil, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Germany

Johannes Rauch, Minister of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection, Austria

José Luis Escrivá, Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, Spain

Luka Mesec, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Slovenia

Karien van Gennip, Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, Netherlands

Marian Jurečka, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Czechia

Marin Piletić, Minister of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy, Croatia

Marlena Maląg, Minister of Family and Social Policy, Poland

Michael Falzon, Minister for Social Policy and Children’s Rights, Malta

Monika Navickienė, Minister of Social Security and Labour, Lithuania

Neale Richmond, Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, Ireland

Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Social Affairs and Employment, on behalf of the European Commission

Oliver Röpke, President, European Social and Economic Committee

Olivier Dussopt, Minister of Labour, Employment and Economic Inclusion, France

Pierre-Yves Dermagne, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy and Labour, Belgium

Piotr Sadowski, President, Social Platform

Signe Riisalo, Minister of Social Protection, Estonia

Soňa Gaborčáková, Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, Slovakia

Tuula Haatainen, Minister of Employment, Finland

Valeria Ronzitti, Secretary General, SGI Europe

Vasco Cordeiro, President, European Committee of the Regions

Véronique Willems, Secretary General of SME United

Yiannis Panayiotou, Minister of Labour and Social Insurance, Cyprus

Yolanda Díaz Pérez, Second Vice President and Minister of Labour and Social Economy, Spain”

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