EU and UK Have Different Visions for Realizing Economic Rights
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Recent developments reflect a significant chasm between the views of British Prime Minister David Cameron and those of the European Parliament over the role of government in providing for the economic needs of individuals. Cameron’s vision for a "Big Society" that redistributes power and control from the central state and its agencies to individuals and local communities implicitly challenges the views contained in a recent European Parliament resolution calling for the creation of a Brussels-based Human Rights and Democracy Directorate that would help the United Nations monitor whether national governments are fulfilling the economic rights of their citizens.
Over the past year, during his candidacy for Prime Minister and after his election, David Cameron has been explaining the need for a “Big Society” that serves as an alternative to big government’s costly and ineffective social services programs. Meanwhile, on December 16, 2010, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that calls for the creation of a Human Rights and Democracy Directorate in the EU’s European External Action Service, the EU’s nascent version of the U.S. Department of State (the “EEAS”)(the “Directorate”). The Directorate would have the authority to monitor the degree to which EU Member States are realizing the economic rights of their citizens, including the right to food, water, education, housing, land, work, and social security. Which vision prevails will go a long way in determining the future of Europe.
Cameron, who also serves as Leader of the Conservative Party, has provided details of the Big Society in three speeches: the November 2009 Hugo Young Lecture; a July 19, 2010 Liverpool speech; and an October 2010 Conservative Party Conference speech.
In the Hugo Young Lecture, Cameron explained that, for centuries, the state expanded in order to help achieve a fairer society and that, up until the late 1960s, the expansion of the state to advance social justice was generally successful. Yet, as Cameron explains, since 1997, the gap between the richest and the poorer got wider; youth unemployment has increased; and social mobility has stalled. In his view, it is critical to reform families by having government involve voluntary bodies and charities; to reform education by replacing state-run schools that are accountable to education bureaucrats with self-governing state schools accountable to parents; and to reform welfare by replacing the model of payment by right with payment by results, for both welfare recipients and welfare to work providers.
In the Hugo Young Lecture, Cameron lamented the negative effect an expanded government had on personal responsibility:
But as the state continued to expand, it took away from people more and more things that they should and could be doing for themselves, their families and their neighbours. Human kindness, generosity and imagination are steadily being squeezed out by the work of the state. The result is that today, the character of our society- and indeed the character of some people themselves, as actors in society, is changing.
There is less expectation to take responsibility, to stand by the mother of your child, to achieve, to engage with your local community, to keep your neighbourhood clean, to respect other people and their property, to use your own discretion and judgement.
According to Prime Minister Cameron, the steps to creating the Big Society include greater decentralization, transparency, and accountability. The new role for the state is to galvanize, catalyze, prompt, encourage and agitate for community engagement and social renewal. The state must help families, individuals, charities and communities come together to solve problems.
In contrast, the European Parliament’s December 16, 2010 resolution calls for the creation of a centralized bureaucracy within the EEAS that will work with the new Brussels-based European Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to implement the terms of human rights treaties within the EU Member States, including economic rights. The EEAS views the promotion of human rights internationally as a form of “soft power” that it can exercise under the enhanced foreign policy agenda that the Lisbon Treaty entrusted to the EU bureaucracy. For this reason, the European Parliament must ensure that EU Member States are adhering to international human rights standards for the realization of economic rights, such as the rights to health, housing, a clean and safe environment, education, work, and social security.
In pertinent part, in the Resolution, the EU Parliament:
22. Highlights the future accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights as an opportunity to prove its commitment to defending human rights inside and outside its borders; calls on the EU Member States to support this and commit the EU’s citizens to it;
23. Urges the Commission and the Council to promote widely, within and outside the Union, the European Convention on Human Rights, with the aim inter alia of educating the public on the existence of jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights that can be activated to address and redress violations suffered by a Member State of the Council of Europe or its citizens;
24. Urges the High Representative to ensure that the EEAS is well integrated and coordinated with other international bodies, regional organizations, and their work in promoting human rights; calls on the High Representative to ensure that recommendations, concerns and priorities expressed within and by the UN system, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and other international institutions are fully and systematically integrated into all EU policy fields, and the human rights field in particular.
The Resolution repeatedly refers to the need to include economic rights among the human right obligations that the Directorate will monitor and, when possible, enforce, within EU Member States.
Thus, as Prime Minister Cameron, by promoting the Big Society, attempts to replace Britain’s welfare state with a decentralized, community-centered approach to the realization of economic rights, the European Parliament, through a resolution for the creation of a Human Rights and Democracy Directorate at the EU-level, promotes a centralized, UN-centered approach to the realization of economic rights.
Jim Kelly is the President of Solidarity Center for Law and Justice, P.C., a public interest civil and human rights law firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. The opinions expressed herein are his own.