31st Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities – 19-21 October 2016, Strasbourg, France
Chamber of Regions: debate on implementation of the European Social Charter at regional level
While local and regional authorities' prerogatives in the social field have increased in many member States, the European Social Charter is still not widely known among Europe's local and regional elected representatives: during a debate held on 20 October, the Spanish judge Luis Jimena Quesada, former chair of the European Committee of Social Rights, explained how the Charter worked and what benefits it offered to the members of the Chamber of Regions.
Far from being a "catalogue of social rights", the European Social Charter was a means of measuring the progress made by the States signatories in this field and contributed, in the eyes of Mr Jimena Quesada, to forging a more solid European conscience. While the Charter's application was first and foremost a task for the States, the local and regional levels also had a role to play in spontaneously implementing it within the scope of their own powers. Good coordination between local, regional and national authorities was important for optimum application of the Charter, in the interest of all citizens and also of the country itself.
But for that to happen, it was important for this document to become better known within local and regional authorities. In this connection the Congress could cooperate more closely with the European Committee of Social Rights, which was tasked with monitoring the Charter's application. Mr Jimena Quesada also called on local and regional authorities to encourage States that had not yet done this to sign or ratify the revised Charter in and to to accept the collective complaint procedure.
The growing importance of towns and regions for social policy
During the debate, several speakers presented the social policies pursued in their country at local and regional level. The new President of the Chamber of Regions, Gunn Marit Helgesen (Norway, EPP/CCE) deplored the fact that the Charter was so little known in her country despite the fact that "the Council of Europe plays an important role in promoting social rights in Norway". Svetlana Orlova (Russian Federation, EPP/CCE) stressed the major commitment of Russia's regions to social policy: 69% of the Vladimir region's budget was allocated to social spending, and progress had been achieved in areas such as health, family welfare and aid for people with disabilities: "Only 10 years ago, no one would have believed that we would achieve so much progress", she said.
The social reforms carried out in recent years in many countries had either reinforced or curbed regions' powers in these fields, depending on the States. Finland had heavily regionalised structures, for example, while introducing new services, particularly for young people, explained Helena Pihlajasaari (Finland, SOC). In the Netherlands, however, powers had above all been transferred to municipalities, especially in the health sphere: in the opinion of Josan Meijers (Netherlands, SOC), the European Social Charter closed social disparities and provided a valuable tool for local and regional democracy. Finally, Harald Sonderegger (Austria, EPP/CCE) reiterated the role of the Charter in integrating refugees and migrants, a task that was handled in his country by a partnership between the State and the regions.