Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights of Workers

September 26, 2009

Until the 1980s, the focus of the EC regarding human rights primarily rested on civil and political rights, as in the overriding international context. However, the focus had shifted in the 1980s more towards the social dimension, which “was high on the European Council’s agenda at that time, as demonstrated by the declarations at the end of the 1988 summits in Hannover and Rhodes, which emphasised the importance of creating a solid social dimension to the internal market.”[1] The Rhodes summit in particular recognised that the creation of a single market should not be a goal in itself without taking into consideration the social aspects of the Community. Moreover, the Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights of Workers was adopted in 1989.

The Charter had not been adopted unanimously, as opposition came from Great Britain and its then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Great Britain did, however, eventually sign the Charter in 1998 after the election of Tony Blair as Prime Minister. The nature of the Community Charter is non-binding and it is a political declaration. As such it has no legal effect and cannot be enforced legally. Although it still remains a political document with a programmatic nature, “it has given flesh and bones to Community social policies.”[2] It establishes the principles on which the European labour law model is based. The Charter specifically deals with freedom of movement; employment and remuneration; improvement of living and working conditions; social protection; freedom of association and collective bargaining; vocational training; equal treatment for men and women; information, consultation and participation of workers; health protection and safety at the workplace; protection of children and adolescents; elderly persons; and disabled persons. The supervision of the Charter consists of a reporting procedure in which an annual report on the implementation of the Charter is published by the Commission.

As has already been pointed out, the Community Charter is a non-binding declaration of intent by the Heads of State or Government of the Member States. Yet, its adoption marks a significant moment in the development of the social dimension in the EU. The former President of the Commission, Jacques Delors, who had made a commitment to addressing the social aspects of the single market, described the importance of the Community Charter in that it is a means of discovering the extent of agreement on common values by the Member States and how those commonly recognised values can be incorporated into the language of rights.[3] Moreover, its importance “is that it clearly spells out the whole range of the Community’s social policy objectives for the 1990s, and enunciates these in terms of a series of fundamental principles in a single EC-level text.”[4] All consequent instruments regarding social policy, such as the Maastricht Agreement on Social Policy, make reference to the Community Charter. The Treaty of Amsterdam explicitly bears reference to the Community Charter and “it is no longer unthinkable that the Court of Justice might have the power to interpret and enforce the Charter.”[5]

[1] Lammy Betten and Nicholas Grief, EU Law and Human Rights (Essex: Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 1998), 70.
[2] Silvana Sciarra, ‘From Strasbourg to Amsterdam: Prospects for the Convergence of European Social Rights Policy’, in Phillip Alston (ed.), The EU and Human Rights, 499.
[3] Betten and Grief, 72.
[4] Policy Studies Institute, ‘The EC Social Agenda’ [online]
[5] Koen Lenaerts and Petra Foubert, ‘Social Rights in the Case-Law of the European Court of Justice: The Impact of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union on Standing Case-Law’, in Eide et al (eds.), Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 161.

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