Research Handbooks in European Law series
Edited by Frans Pennings and Gijsbert Vonk
Chapter 8: Supervision of social security standards: Between law and politics
Minimum social security standards have been created with the view to giving substance to the human right to social security. As such, these standards greatly contribute to social justice as a basis for lasting peace. At least, this is what we would wish and expect. In reality, we are often confronted with a discrepancy between the objectives of the standards and their actual effect. This discrepancy brings us to what is sometimes called the Achilles heel of international law: enforcement in the event of non-compliance. The frequently quoted metaphor of the paper tiger missing in tooth and claw in relation to social rights speaks volumes; member states can disregard negative conclusions of supervising bodies and go unpunished. This is not just an incidental circumstance; it is rather a conditional feature for states to be prepared to adopt international social security standards. It reflects the position of the standards: between soft and hard law. Their soft character, however, does not mean that there is no supervision on their application. On the contrary, supervision of the standards involves advanced supervisory mechanisms with a wide range of different bodies, procedures and products, tailored to their in-between-position. These mechanisms are the subject of this chapter. Minimum standards for the European region are laid down in the European Code of Social Security (European Code) and in Article 12 of the European Social Charter (Social Charter or ESC) of the Council of Europe.
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