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Putting the human back into the economy

Putting the human back into the economy 1

06.06.2016 – “The economy should serve the people, and not vice versa” – says UN expert after assessing EU adjustment policies.

A press conference was held at the UNRIC headquarters on by Independent Expert Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky to share the preliminary findings of his week-long visit to Brussels, during which he met representatives from the European Commission, European Parliament, National Human Rights Institutions and civil society.

The purpose of his trip was to assess the impact of austerity policies and economic adjustment programmes on the enjoyment of economic and social rights in the European Union.

Having spent the week gathering information on recent EU policies to fight unemployment, poverty and social exclusion and EU initiatives to promote social rights, Mr. Bohoslavsky voiced his final findings and key recommendations.

“I am concerned about a policy shift undermining the previously balanced approach of ensuring economic stability, equality and social cohesion, in favour of a disproportionate focus on budgetary stability,” warned the international expert charged by the UN Human Rights Council to analyse and report on the effects of debt crises on human rights.

“Poverty has been on the rise in one of the most affluent regions of the world”, Mr. Bohoslavsky stressed. About 121 million people in the EU are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Their number has particularly increased in countries that underwent a financial crisis and structural adjustment, such as Greece and Spain.

“It is unlikely that the European Union will reach in 2020 its official target to reduce the number of people at-risk-of poverty and social exclusion by 20 million people,” he said while noting that there are around 21.4 million unemployed persons in the EU, 4.7 million more than in 2008, before the financial crisis spread.

The human rights expert noted that the EU has developed tools to assess the impact of austerity measures and international trade agreements on social and human rights. “However,” he said, “when it comes to internal macroeconomic policies human rights standards are not explicitly used as benchmarks against which structural program reforms should be assessed.”

Putting the human back into the economy 2

In his debriefing to journalists Mr. Bohoslavsky stated that he was satisfied with the EU’s openness and frankness in discussing “what can be done to overcome adverse human rights impacts stemming from the financial crisis” and understanding the need to “reflect collectively how we can protect individuals and groups better in the future”.

An underlying concern to his recommendations was the need for economic reforms to have social and human rights impact assessments that do more than “just ticking boxes” and “live up to their name”. “There is a need” he said “to put the human person back into the economy. The economy must serve the people, and not vice versa”.

During discussion Mr. Bohoslavsky reaffirmed the findings of his latest report on the economic and social situation in Greece following his visit last December, reiterating that the economic and social rights violations going hand in hand with austerity measures are a responsibility shared by all Member States.

Finally, in response to a question on the future impact of the EU report to be released in March 2017, the Special Rapporteur stated that he hopes EU authorities “realise how important it is to have human rights impact assessments in place” when driving towards macroeconomic stability.

“Irrespective of the macro policy in question” he said, “human rights must be fully respected, so that no one is left behind”.


UNRIC’s Related Links

Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky Profile 
Latest report on Greece, following Bohoslavsky’s fact finding visit in December (A/HRC/31/60/Add.2)
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