Ahead of European elections, eminent jurists call on policy makers to strengthen social rights

16 May 2019

With EU elections taking place across the continent from May 23-26, eminent jurists are calling on policy makers to urgently commit to strengthening social rights in the economic governance of the European Union.

A decade on from the start of the economic crisis and the roll out of harsh austerity policies across the continent, social rights have suffered enormously – notably the rights to food, housing and health. The jurists include 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 have taken the unprecedented step of calling on EU policy makers to urgently commit to strengthening the position of social rights in the economic governance of the Union.

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.” Their call to action says 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 altar of ‘fiscal discipline’.

This unprecedented move 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.

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".