2015 Human rights as an answer to the social damage of the crisis

How can we make Europe more social, democratic an sustainable? Can we use the existing instruments, like the annual growth survey, the European semester, the Juncker investment plan and so on? Secondly, are the human rights an useful tool? And how must they be implemented?

In the first session we started with a discussion about the annual growth survey and the European semester.

Presentations: madrid first session

Michel Debruyne on behalf of Peter Lelie who was excused started the seminar with an introduction to the results of the European semester.

Prof Zeitlin introduced us into the question how to democratize Europe and make the instruments as the annual growth survey more social. He is Professor of Public Policy and Governance, and Distinguished Faculty Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences (FMG) at the University of Amsterdam. He has studied the coordination of EU social, economic, and employment policies, through the Open Method of Coordination, the European Employment Strategy, the Lisbon Strategy, and the new Europe 2020 Strategy.

Prof Cio Paxtot elaborated the question about the sustainability of our welfare systems. The sustainability of our welfare systems is one of the objectives of the European semester. Welfare systems who are under the threat of austerity and neoliberal ideas. She will bring a perspective from Spain. who  teaches at the University of Barcelona and is specialized in welfare state sustainability and intergenerational transfers. She assists in the elaboration of the national reform programs for Spain in the context of the European Semester.

After these introductions the discussion started with Sotiria Theodoropoulou, who joined the ETUI as a Senior Researcher in November 2010. Currently she works in the Economic, Employment and Social Policies unit. Her current areas of activity are: austerity programs in Europe, economic governance reforms and social policies in the area of austerity. She is also the right women to open the discussion from a point of view of trade unions.

Sion Jones from EAPN complemented the discussion from a vision of the social NGO’s. Sian Jones is currently policy coordinator by EAPN Europe. She also coordinates on behalf of EAPN Europe the Semester Alliance. She is well known as a fierce defender of the rights of the poor people.

The second session started with an introduction into two plans of the European commission: the juncker investment plan and the longterm unemployment plan.

Presentations: madrid second session

Both plans are answers from the commission to the growing demands of people who want another policy, who are tired of austerity, tired of the no future for the young people, the standstill of our economies, …

Jeremey Leaman and Mahmood Messkoob elaborated their comments in the Juncker plan. With the partners of RE-InVEST we have had already a first discussion on the Junckerplan. There are still a lot of elements of these plans who need a critical analysis. Jeremy and Mahmood are best placed to deconstruct the assumptions and the presuppositions of these plans.

To start the discussion we asked three members of grassroot organizations or trade unions to comment these plans. From Spain, Patricia Berzunatea (RAIS Fundacion Spain); from Greece, Evangelia Lyssari (Trade Union Greece) and from Portugal, Sandra Araujo (EAPN Portugal). They answered the question what kind of investment their country needs and if these two plans are an answer to their needs.

The third session explored the idea of human rights, human rights as an answer to the social damage of the crisis, thus as a policy tool.

Presentations: madrid third session

The human rights could be the frame for the European and national policies. In fact, they are already the frame right now, because Europe and all European countries (almost all) have signed the European social charter and the European convention on human rights, there is European charter of social rights, there is the European charter of fundamental rights and in the European treaties there is article 6 and others that confirm that the European union has been built on these rights.

If there is a lot of framework, why do we need to discuss the human rights as possible answers to the social damage of the crisis?

The problem with human rights is that they are ethical pronouncements. I quote Sen in his book, the idea of justice: “proclamations of human rights, even though stated in the form of recognizing the existence of things that are called human rights, are really strong ethical pronouncements as to what should be done. They indicate that something needs to be done for the realization of these recognized freedoms that are identified through these rights. One thing they are not are claims that these human rights are already established legal rights.”

Sen argues further that the content and the viability depends on the degree of discussion in society. A permanent public discussion is necessary for the realization of the human rights. You could say that human rights don’t exist, even if they are written in our constitution, when there is no public discussion.

With Claude Lefort, French philosopher who has always reflected in the line of Hannah Arendt and is best known for his theory that democracy is a “form of society” in which the “place of power” is represented as an “empty space” we could say that human rights are also an empty space. Only through public discussion they obtain content and viability.

To make a bridge between this and the first sessions prof Nacho Alvarez focussed on the possibility for an alternative economic and social plan to get Spain out of today’s crisis. Prof Nacho Alvarez comes from the University of Valladolidad, Spain and is specialized in macro-economies, austerity policies and crisis policies diagnosis and solutions. He’s also active as economist within Podemos.

His plan gives an alternative. An alternative that takes the wellbeing of the people into account, that departs from the human rights. Alternatives are one essential element to have a public discussion. If there are no alternatives, there is no public discussion and then there is no democracy anymore. Without alternatives there is only empty space that is nothing more than a black hole that devours everything.

These alternative plans give us new space for hope, and this is a perfect introduction for the discussion about human rights.

Marie-Cécile Renoux introduced the topic of human rights as a tool in the fight against poverty. She is policy coordinator for European matters from ATD Fourth World and knows very well the daily struggle of the fourth world and the maze of the European institutions.

Teloni Dimitra – Dora (Lecturer (Scientific Associate) TEI of Athens Department of Social Work)  showed how Human Rights are a tool for action in Greece. Her publications and research interests focus on radical and critical social work, anti-racist social work, poverty and social services as well as social movements and community development.

Siobhan Lloyd answered the question if the human rights are a policy tool. She is a lawyer practising in housing, community care, immigration and asylum law. She teaches European Union law at Birkbeck College alongside her practice and represent here Just Fair.

The Alliances as a network is a mix of different knowledges. This seminar is a perfect example of this crossing of knowledges. From the discussion we learned that the answers of the European Commission are peanuts comparing the immensity of the problems in the different member states. The social damage of the crisis is so immens that they need a paradigm swith. Their are alternatives to this incomplete answers.

An essential element of these alternatives is that we need public forums. Alternatives based on human rights can only be implemented through public discussion.These public forums can  empower people and can fill in the alternatives and the Human Rights themselves.

Human Rights can empower and mobilize people. they can be a stemming stone for a social, democratic and sustainable Europe.




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