This year's focus chapter looks at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on social rights. It examines the measures in national recovery and resilience plans which address the social vulnerabilities among a variety of population groups in the EU.
The remaining chapters cover: the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights; equality and non-discrimination; racism, xenophobia and related intolerance; Roma equality and inclusion; asylum, borders and migration; information society, privacy and data protection; rights of the child; access to justice; and the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected people’s enjoyment of their social rights, albeit not to the same degree. Large sections of the population in the EU have faced excess mortality, an increased risk of poverty, restrictions on employment, lack of access to digital infrastructure, reduced access to healthcare, childcare, education and training, limitations on participation in society and tensions in their work-life balance.
The EU responded with swift action from the European Commission and several agencies, including the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which provides a detailed weekly analysis of the epidemiological situation, and the European Medicines Agency, which assesses Covid-19 treatments and vaccines. Moreover, to address the social impact of the pandemic, € 723.8 billion was made available to Member States, through the Recovery and Resilience Facility. As a result, Member States put forward more than 850 measures to improve the realisation of social rights in the recovery from the pandemic. The implementation of these measures needs to be systematically monitored for compliance with fundamental rights to ensure that they are used effectively and efficiently, and that they respect people’s rights. Yet Member States do not generally involve statutory bodies with a human rights remit in monitoring the effectiveness of measures adopted in their recovery and resilience plans to promote social rights.
In this chapter:
The Council expressed its full commitment to the European Commission ‘Strategy to strengthen the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the EU’. The 10-year strategy and the Council conclusions put a major emphasis on the application of the Charter at national level, stressing the relevance of national actors.
At national level, courts, parliaments, governments and other bodies continue to use the Charter, which judgments, impact assessments and parliamentary debates mention, as evidence collected in 2021 shows. There are few examples of policy initiatives aiming to enhance training on the Charter. Yet, so far, national bodies do not appear to implement the Commission strategy and Council conclusions through coordinated, long-term planning. But, the appointment of Charter national focal points might indicate that progress may be more evident in 2022.
The 21st anniversary of the EU equality directives fell in 2021. It prompted stocktaking of the achievements and missed opportunities, and assessments of the implementation of the legislation, but most importantly reflections on the next steps to take. This year the chapter focuses on discrimination against LGBTI people and discrimination against EU citizens on the ground of their nationality.
Violation of the rights of LGBTI persons in some Member States, as well as an increase in related hate crime and hate speech incidents – which can reflect an actual increase in incidents as well as increased willingness to report them – prompted the reaction of several international institutions. In parallel, there has been a growing recognition of family rights for same-sex couples and homosexual parents in international and national jurisprudence.
There is some evidence that EU citizens experience discrimination on the ground of nationality in various areas of life, but data are scarcely collected on this subject. In 2021, some of the measures to tackle the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic affected LGBTI people negatively, while EU citizens faced some problems when crossing EU borders, and in receiving or recording their vaccinations.
Racist hate crimes and hate speech persisted across the EU in 2021. Migrants and ethnic minorities, including Roma, Jews, Muslims and Asians, continued to be blamed for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
The European Commission took decisive steps to implement existing EU law by initiating infringement procedures against 11 EU Member States for not fully and correctly transposing the Framework Decision on Racism and Xenophobia into national law. It also called on Member States to better implement the provisions of the Racial Equality Directive.
Reflecting EU-wide commitments to combat racism, Member States adopted national action plans against racism and continued to strengthen measures to address data gaps and develop structures and processes for the effective reporting of racist incidents.
In 2021, the Council of the European Union adopted its recommendation on Roma equality, inclusion and participation. It calls on EU Member States to adopt national Roma strategic frameworks and to make every effort to achieve the objectives and targets of the new EU Roma strategic framework by 2030. The EU and Member States developed several initiatives to involve Roma and Travellers in preparing the strategies, and consulted relevant stakeholders, such as equality bodies and national human rights institutions.
The EU mainstreamed Roma inclusion in several policy and legislative files. However, most Member States have not mainstreamed Roma inclusion in their main national strategies and measures on major policy areas, such as employment, education, health and housing.
In 2021, the fundamental rights of Roma and Travellers are still not fully respected. Antigypsyism, discrimination, poverty and social exclusion, as well as hate crime and hate speech, continue to affect a disproportionate number of Roma and Travellers across the EU. Measures to tackle the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic compounded these problems.
Respect for fundamental rights at external borders remained one of the top human rights challenges in the EU. Allegations of pushbacks and violence at the border continued. So did deaths at sea and on land, and delays in finding a safe port for migrants rescued at sea. Asylum and return-related detention persisted, including as part of enhanced containment policies at borders. The EU worked on operationalising new large-scale information technology (IT) systems that include fundamental rights safeguards that are expected to be effectively implemented.
In 2021, the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic continued to pose challenges to children’s rights. In March 2021, the European Commission adopted for the first time an EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child on six thematic areas, including: children’s socio-economic inclusion, health and education; promoting children’s participation; and combating violence against children. The European Child Guarantee, another important milestone addressing child poverty and social exclusion, complements the strategy.
The number of asylum-seeking children increased substantially, while the volatile situation at the borders posed serious challenges. The detention of child migrants continued in several Member States, including in cases where the person’s age was not yet determined. The challenges in implementing the directive on procedural safeguards continued in several Member States, while international monitoring bodies raised concerns about the detention conditions of children in conflict with the law.
This chapter focuses on two broad themes: victims’ rights with respect to specific categories of victim, and the independence of the judiciary. The latter is particularly important as regards the rule of law.
The EU strengthened victims’ rights further in 2021. In the framework of the Victims’ Rights Platform, the European Commission continued to discuss how the Victims’ Rights Directive relates to different categories of victims. Member States adopted new legal and/or policy measures to reinforce the generic rights of all victims of crime, and in particular of women as victims of gender-based violence.
Meanwhile, concerns deepened regarding respect for the rule of law, in particular the independence of the judiciary. Deficits persisted in several EU Member States. The mechanism for making the distribution of EU funds conditional entered into force, so measures to punish violations of the rule of law are gradually taking shape.
The European Commission launched the new EU disability strategy for 2021–2030. The Common Provisions Regulation was formally adopted, introducing strict criteria to ensure EU funding complies with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Rail passenger rights for people with disabilities were strengthened. A European Parliament report on lessons learned from petitions regarding rights of people with disabilities shed light on areas of improvement for both the Union and the Member States.
The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic resulted in higher death and sickness rates among people with disabilities. Reports of ill-treatment prompted increased calls for urgent de-institutionalisation. A European Committee of Social Rights decision on segregated education for children with disabilities highlighted the need for fully inclusive education in primary and secondary education.
Member States took the next steps towards implementing the new European Accessibility Act. CRPD implementation beyond the scope of current EU directives remained uneven. All Member States now have a national CRPD monitoring body.
A list of all vessels kept at sea for more than 24 hours while waiting for a safe port in 2021 can be found in the file below:
Annex: Vessels kept at sea for more than 24 hours while waiting for a safe port, 2021 (pdf, 44 KB) >>