Dignity for All: Realizing Social Rights in the EU

The Covid-19 pandemic – and the measures taken to combat it – have upended many lives. For millions of people around the world, the pandemic has brought about a protracted period of uncertainty, isolation, and hardship, with an end not yet in clear view. And those already in a precarious situation before the crisis have been hit the hardest, with women particularly afflicted. 

We have learned the hard way that no one is safe until everybody is safe. In Europe, the detrimental impact of the pandemic on the right to physical and mental health has been compounded by an overreliance on the institutional care of older persons and persons with disabilities. The right to education has come under threat. Unemployment has soared, dealing an additional blow to housing rights.

But the pandemic has also created an unprecedented opportunity to make things right. The recovery effort must address structural inequalities head-on as well as operational deficiencies in the enjoyment of social rights. An approach that places people and their rights at its centre – not as passive recipients of services, but as rights-holders with agency – is the only way to guarantee a sustainable recovery.

Preserving human rights & democracy in the digital sphere

While States carry the main responsibility to respect, protect, and fulfil social rights, the role of the EU institutions and local authorities cannot be underestimated. Indeed, the upcoming Action Plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights has the potential to trigger a seismic shift.

The Action Plan presents a powerful opportunity for the EU to strengthen its commitment to a truly global system for human rights. This publication calls on the European Commission to situate its efforts within the broader human rights framework, building on the EU’s stated commitment to lead the way in supporting the rules-based international order. The commitment to multilateralism must start at home, with a human rightsbased approach to the Action Plan for the Social Pillar.

Accountability, transparency, participation, and non-discrimination should be cornerstones of the Action Plan and its implementation. Human rights are not just normative requirements; they are practical tools that can sharpen the effectiveness of policy interventions. In addition to the EU’s own tools (such as the Social Scoreboard), the findings of international human rights mechanisms can also establish a useful baseline for where States stand with respect to protecting and promoting social rights. As States parties to international human rights treaties, EU member States are, after all, bound to implement these norms. Furthermore, the human rights indicators developed by the UN Human Rights Office, together with the global Sustainable Development indicators, can provide a useful framework for tracking and monitoring the implementation of the Social Pillar.

We have before us a chance to close serious gaps in the enjoyment of social rights across the region. If this opportunity is seized, it will lead to better and tangible outcomes in the Covid-19 recovery and – most importantly – will guarantee a life of greater dignity for all.

Birgit Van Hout
Regional Representative for Europe
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

See also

Link to the publication: