Social Charter

A Charter of Fundamental Social Rights was adopted so that the social dimension would not be neglected in the work to establish a single market in the Community.

The preamble to the EEC Treaty includes amongst its objectives “the economic and social progress” of the Member States and “the constant improvement of the living and working conditions of their peoples”.

In June 1988, at the Hanover Summit, the European Council affirmed the importance of the social aspects of the single market.

On 9 November 1988 the Commission invited the Economic and Social Committee (ESC) to engage in a general discussion on the possible content of a Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights for Workers. The opinion was adopted by the Economic and Social Committee at its plenary session on 22 February 1989.

On 2 and 3 December 1988, the Rhodes Summit emphasised that the “realisation of the single market should not be regarded as a goal in itself”.

Three months after being invited by the Commission to draw up a “Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights for Workers”, the Economic and Social Committee submitted, in February 1989, the opinion that had been requested. The representatives of employers, workers, liberal professions, farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises within the ESC outlined the framework of the basic Community social rights, which they considered should be established in conjunction with the completion of the single market. This opinion was adopted by a large majority of 135 to 22 votes. While at the draft stage the emphasis was on a solution at Community level, the text that was finally adopted repeatedly stressed the role and responsibility of the Member States. However, the question as to what procedures should be adopted with a view to establishing social rights in the Community was left open.

On 15 March 1989, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on “the social dimension of the single market”. It called for “the adoption at Community level of the fundamental social rights which should not be jeopardised because of the pressure of competition or the search for increased competitiveness, and could be taken as the basis for the dialogue between management and labour” and expressed the need to ensure the social dimension of the internal market by implementing a programme of concrete measures comprising a timetable.

On 12 June 1989 the preliminary draft of the Social Charter was discussed by the Council.

At the Madrid Summit (June 1989), the Member States pointed out that, in the context of establishing the single European market, the same emphasis should be placed on the social aspects as on the economic aspects.

On 14 September 1989, the European Parliament adopted seven resolutions on economic and social cohesion, emphasising that the Community’s social dimension was based on the implementation at Community level of all the fundamental social rights enshrined in Community law, which created new scope for actions before the Court of Justice and could not be called into question.

On 2 October 1989, the Commission published its draft “Community Charter of basic social rights”.

On 17 and 18 October 1989, management and labour were consulted on this matter.

On 30 October 1989, the Council finalised the draft Charter.

On 22 November 1989, the European Parliament adopted a resolution relating to the text presented by the Council.

On 9 December 1989, at the Strasbourg Summit, the Heads of State or Government of 11 Member States adopted, in the form of a declaration, the text of the Charter. The European Council took note that the Commission had drawn up an action programme and invited the Commission to submit, at the earliest opportunity, initiatives falling within the competence of the Community.

The Charter was not signed by the United Kingdom in 1989, which gave it added symbolic significance. In 1998, following the election of Tony Blair, the United Kingdom decided to sign the Charter.


The Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights for Workers establishes the major principles on which the European labour law model is based and, more generally, the role of work in society. It includes the following headings:

  • Freedom of movement;
  • Employment and remuneration;
  • Improvement of living and working conditions;
  • Social protection;
  • Freedom of association and collective bargaining;
  • Vocational training;
  • Equal treatment for men and women;
  • Information, consultation and participation of workers;
  • Health protection and safety at the workplace;
  • Protection of children and adolescents;
  • Elderly persons;
  • Disabled persons.

The social rights enshrined in the Charter will be implemented, as appropriate, by the Member States or by the European Community within the limits of its powers. In this connection, the Commission has presented its action programme in order to ensure that a foundation of minimum provisions common to all the Member States is adopted.


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