Europe can be considered a sort of fortress of the protection of socio-economic rights. However, this bright scenario has been unsettled by the eruption of the Eurozone crisis, which has challenged the narrative of social Europe and swept away protections for social rights in Member States grappling with sovereign debt crises such as Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus, Latvia and Romania. In these countries, austerity measures led to persistent violations of social rights, under the external constraint of conditionality regimes which involved cuts in wages, pensions and welfare services. Consequently, austerity measures were challenged in domestic and European Courts and before the ECSR. In other words, there has been a ‘turn to the law’, in order to give concrete effect to the potential offered by the relevant legal instruments. What has been the general attitude of the Courts and quasi-judicial bodies to actions challenging austerity measures? Since the analysis of how the Courts and other human rights bodies manage the complex and controversial balance between austerity and social rights is an excellent ‘stress test’ to determine the ‘weight’ of the latter not only in the political debate, but also in the human rights discourse, this paper will focus on the ‘crisis cases’ in Europe, so as to shed light on the actual level of protection for social rights.
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