The European Commission in its second social action programme set up a Comite des Sages to review progress and to suggest actions for the promotion of a Social Europe. The Committee presented its report “For a Europe of Civic and Social Rights” in 1996, stating that it “felt that Europe was in greater danger than it realised, with its social deficit lowering like a storm cloud overhead. Europe cannot be built on unemployment and social exclusion, nor on a shortfall in citizenship.”
The Committee highlighted the challenge of ensuring that the European Union project was not just an economic venture, pointing out that the social issues were at the heart of this challenge. The Committee called for the immediate specification of a minimum core of fundamental rights within the European Union. It also proposed that a gradual step-by-step process should be applied to the construction of a Social Europe corresponding to that involved in the economic and monetary construction of Europe.
The Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) made some progress towards a citizen’s Europe by focusing on the promotion of equality between women and men. However, it failed to adopt a full employment policy. It also enhanced the importance of human rights within the EU and included a provision for the possible suspension of a state where there is a serious and persistent breach of human rights.
The fight against racism forms part of the EU’s responsibility for human rights. The new non-discrimination clause allows the Council to take appropriate action to “combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation.” This clause is welcomed by anti-racist groups, even though it is far weaker than NGOs had hoped for. The non-discrimination clause does not have direct effect in Member States, it requires unanimity and therefore can be vetoed easily. Neither does it cover such categories as social origin, national origin, or language. Nevertheless, it has been hailed as a significant advance in the struggle against racism and xenophobia, because for the first time it indicates a clear Community responsibility in the struggle.
In the broader European context it is also important to bear in mind the role of the Council of Europe in the fight against racism. The European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities are particularly relevant. The latter emerged from the Vienna Summit (1993) and the disruption in Central and Eastern Europe since 1989.
The promotion of social inclusion, equality and respect for cultural diversity requires legislation as well as awareness raising. Specific measures are needed to promote equal opportunities for minority ethnic groups. There is a need to protect the human rights of asylum-seekers and the 13 million third-country nationals resident in the EU. Without progress on these issues the creation of a Social Europe remains a dream. Roma/Gypsies/Travellers and their organisations want to be involved in transforming this dream into reality.