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Bindman, Eleanor

EU Policy on Economic and Social Rights in Russia: A Missed Opportunity?

In recent years the EU’s policy on human rights in Russia has been the focus of considerable internal and external attention, much of it critical. Despite longstanding programmes for funding human rights projects in Russia and the launch of biannual EU-Russia human rights consultations in 2005, the subject of human rights remains contentious within EU-Russia relations. One striking aspect of the EU’s policy towards Russia is its focus on issues such as prison reform, freedom of speech and prevention of torture which can broadly be characterized as civil and political rights issues. The purpose of this paper is to examine the EU’s approach to another aspect of human rights policy which tends to receive very little attention, namely economic and social rights issues such as housing, health, access to social welfare and workers’ rights. Utilising data gathered from elite interviews with EU officials and representatives of Russian human rights and social NGOs during fieldwork in Brussels and Russia in 2011, the paper will argue that that the EU’s lack of internal consensus on the importance of economic and social rights issues hinders its ability to raise these issues in its interactions with Russia on human rights. Yet the fact that economic and social rights have traditionally enjoyed a relatively high degree of visibility and importance in Russia has the potential to make this an area where more fruitful engagement on human rights could take place.