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Bilbao Conference: Strengthening social rights after the pandmic

Sabino Arana Fundazioa

On Tuesday, the European Democrats organised a conference entitled "The future of democracy and the welfare state after the pandemic". The event was opened by Sandro Gozi, Secretary General of the EDP. Our Basque MEP Izaskun Bilbao (EAJ-PNV) participated as well.

The pandemic has profoundly changed social and political relations. The gulf between citizens and politicians has widened. Repeated lockdowns have severely impacted many people’s mental health. Health restrictions have led to a resurfacing of populism. However, this crisis also represents an opportunity: to remember the value of family, to deepen relationships with neighbours and friends, to bounce back. In this context, the speakers addressed different aspects of the same topic.

Dr. Victor Lapuente, Professor of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg, explained the concept of "Quality of government" and that we need both a healthy democracy and a good quality of government in order to facilitate happy and healthy citizens. This is particularly relevant in times like these: indeed, the countries that have managed the pandemic better are those with an effective democratic government in place.

Arola Urdangarin, Director of the Euroregion Nouvelle Aquitaine-Euskadi-Navarra, spoke about the challenges of cross-border cooperation during the pandemic crisis and stated that "in the post-COVID period, cross-border cooperation shows plenty of opportunities for the development of territories at all levels". In this sense, the EGTC director stressed that "the internationalisation of regions will play an increasingly important role in the construction of Europe”. And, according to a European Commission study, "by solving only 20% of cross-border obstacles, regions could see their GDP increase by 2%".

Our MEP Izaskun Bilbao introduced two speakers, Carmen Salcedo and Renato Zerbini Ribeiro, arguing that "the 'we' cannot be abandoned. Solidarity is the basis of social cohesion". Carmen Salcedo, Professor of Labour Law in Valencia and advisor to the Council of Europe, introduced the European Social Charter which signifies a new standard of social rights that is unique in the world. According to her, Covid-19 "has particularly affected social rights, which is why the response to the pandemic must be based on the recovery and strengthening of all these rights. The ideal legal instrument to achieve this objective is the European Social Charter", as it is "the most representative and committed treaty in favour of social rights of all those that exist on the international scene".

Renato Zerbini Ribiero joined the seminar from Brazil. The Professor of International Law at the University of Brasilia and Chair of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recalled that "special measures must be implemented urgently to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the most vulnerable. This means ensuring equal and fair access to vaccines and information on Covid-19, more investment in social protection systems, but also Internet access for all.”

Social rights - for example support for the most vulnerable or investments in gender equality - have too often taken a back seat during the pandemic. However, Covid-19 has affected social rights in particular. The response to the pandemic must therefore be based on restoring and strengthening these rights.