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Charter of Fundamental Rights

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Charter of Fundamental Rights

Not to be confused with European Convention on Human Rights.
Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
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The preamble of the Charter
Created 2 October 2000
Ratified 7 December 2000
Author(s) European Convention
Signatories Institutions and member states of the European Union
Purpose Consolidate and enshrine the broad array of rights afforded to citizens of the European Union
Read online Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union at

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union enshrines certain political, social, and economic rights for European Union (EU) citizens and residents into EU law. It was drafted by the European Convention and solemnly proclaimed on 7 December 2000 by the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the European Commission. However its then legal status was uncertain and it did not have full legal effect[1] until the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009.

Under the Charter, the European Union must act and legislate consistently with the Charter and the EU's courts will strike down legislation adopted by the EU's institutions that contravenes it. The Charter applies to the Institutions of the European Union, and its member states but only when the latter are implementing EU law. The Charter does not extend the competences of the EU.


European Union
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This article is part of the series:
Politics and government
of the European Union

The Treaty establishing the European Economic Community did not include any reference to fundamental or human rights. The EEC Treaty was written a few years after the failure of the European Defence Community Treaty and the European Political Community Treaty. This latter treaty had included rights provisions and Craig and de Búrca argue that, in light of that failure, the drafters of the EEC Treaty wished to eschew any implicitly political elements.[2] However the idea that the purely economic end of the new EEC Treaty would be unlikely to have any implications for fundamental rights was soon to be tested.

Court cases

Soon after the entry into force of the EEC Treaty, the Community established itself as a major political entity with policy ramifications beyond its economic aims. In 1964, the European Court of Justice handed down its decision in Costa v ENEL, in which the Court decided that Union law should take precedence over conflicting national law. This meant that national governments could not escape what they had agreed to at a European level by enacting conflicting domestic measures, but it also potentially meant that the EEC legislator could legislate unhindered by the restrictions imposed by fundamental rights provisions enshrined in the constitutions of member states. This issue came to a head in 1970 in the Handelsgesellschaft case when a German court ruled that a piece of EEC legislation infringed the German Basic Law. On a reference from the German court, the ECJ ruled that whilst the application of Union law could not depend on its consistency with national constitutions, fundamental rights did form an "integral part of the general principles of [European Community] law" and that inconsistency with fundamental rights could form the basis of a successful challenge to a European law.[3]

In ruling as it did in the Handelsgesellschaft case the ECJ had, in effect, created a doctrine of unwritten rights which bound the Community institutions. While the court's fundamental rights jurisprudence was approved by the institutions in 1977[4] and a statement to that effect was inserted into the Maastricht Treaty[5] it was only in 1999 that the European Council formally went about the initiating the process of drafting a codified catalogue of fundamental rights for the EU.


In 1999 the European Council proposed that a "body composed of representatives of the Heads of State and Government and of the President of the Commission as well as of members of the European Parliament and national parliaments" should be formed to draft a fundamental rights charter.[6] On being constituted in December of that year the "body" entitled itself the European Convention.[7]

The Convention adopted the draft on 2 October 2000 and it was solemnly proclaimed by the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the European Commission on 7 December 2000. It was at the same time, however, decided to defer making a decision on the Charter's legal status.[8] However it did come with the political weight of having been approved by three powerful institutions and as such was regularly cited by the ECJ as a source of fundamental rights.

Legal force

A modified Charter formed part of the defunct European Constitution. After that treaty's failure, its replacement, the Lisbon Treaty, also gave force to the Charter albeit by referencing it as an independent document rather than by incorporating it into the treaty itself. However, both the version included in the Constitution and the one referenced in the Lisbon Treaty were amended versions of the Charter.

On the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding proposed that Commissioners should swear to uphold all EU treaties and the Charter. On 3 May 2010, the European Commission swore a solemn declaration at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, pledging to respect the EU Treaties and to be completely independent in carrying out their duties during their mandate. For the first time, the Commissioners also explicitly pledged to respect the new Charter of Fundamental Rights.[9]

Several states insisted upon an opt-out from national application of the charter (see below for details).

Legal status

Following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 the fundamental rights charter has the same legal value as the European Union treaties. The Charter referred to in the Treaty is an amended version of the 2000 document which was solemnly declared by the same three institutions a day before the signing of the Lisbon Treaty itself.

Article 51(1) of the Charter addresses the Charter to the EU's institutions, bodies established under EU law and, when implementing EU laws, the EU's member states. In addition both Article 6 of the amended Treaty of European Union and Article 51(2) of the Charter itself restrict the Charter from extending the competences of the EU. A consequence of this is that the EU will not be able to legislate to vindicate a right set out in the Charter unless the power to do such is set out in the Treaties proper. Furthermore, individuals will not be able to take a member state to court for failing to uphold the rights in the Charter unless the member state in question was implementing EU law. It is this last point that has been subject to the most debate.

The Charter is not the first attempt to place human rights principles at the core of European Union law. All EU member states are, and candidate states are required to be, signatories to the Council of Europe's European Convention on Human Rights, so that many principles from the Convention, such as the right to a fair trial, were taken as the baseline for European Court of Justice jurisprudence even before their formal reiteration in Charter. In interpreting the human rights protections provided by the general principles of EU law (described in the Court cases section above), the ECJ had already dealt with the issue of whether the rights protected by those general principles applied to member states. Having ruled in Johnston v Royal Ulster Constabulary[10] that a right to fair procedures was one of the general principles of EU law, in Kremzow v Austria[11] the ECJ had to decide whether or not a member state was obliged to apply that principle in relation to a wrongful conviction for murder. Kremzow's lawyers argued that his case came within the scope of EU law on the grounds that his wrongful conviction and sentence had breached his right to free movement within the EU. The ECJ responded by saying that since the laws under which Kremzow had been convicted were not enacted to secure compliance with EU law, his predicament fell outside the scope of EU law.

The wording in Kremzow v Austria, referring to the "field of application of EU law", differs from the wording in the Charter which refers to the implementation of EU law.[12] However the amended explanatory memorandum issued alongside the Charter in 2007 describes the wording used in the Charter as reflecting ECJ precedent.

The British and Polish protocol

Template:See In the negotiations leading up to the signing to the Lisbon Treaty, Poland and the United Kingdom secured a protocol to the treaty relating to the application of the Charter of the Fundamental Rights in their respective countries.

The protocol contains two substantial provisions. The first—Article 1(1)—precludes both the domestic courts in Poland and the UK and the EU's courts from finding that "laws, regulations or administrative provisions, practices or action" in the countries to which it applies are inconsistent with the Charter. The second—Article 1(2)—says that the Title IV of the Charter, which contains economic and social rights, does not create justiciable rights.

Both countries to which the protocol currently applies had different reasons for negotiating the protocol. The United Kingdom originally opposed a legally binding charter over concerns that it would result in a stream of British citizens going to the European Court of Justice in attempts to enforce their Charter rights in the UK,[13] and in increased costs for business.[14] While the British accepted a legally binding rights charter during the negotiations of the failed European Constitution, they negotiated a protocol during the Lisbon negotiations which, according to the then British Minister for Europe, would ensure that the Charter would not extend the powers of the European Court of Justice over United Kingdom law.[15]

Although their problems with the Charter related to its perceived liberal stance on social issues, in September 2007 the Polish government indicated that they wished to be included in the British protocol.[16]

There is considerable debate concerning the legal effect of the protocol. One view, shared by Jan Jirásek,[17] is that the protocol is an opt-out that excludes the application of the Charter to Poland and the United Kingdom. Another, shared by Ingolf Pernice, is that the protocol is only an interpretative protocol which will either have limited or no legal consequence.[18]

Proposed Czech protocol

During the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon, Czech President Václav Klaus voiced concern that the Charter would allow for legal challenges before the EU's courts by families of Germans who were expelled from territory in modern day Czech Republic after the Second World War,[19] though legal experts have suggested that the laws under which the German were expelled, the Beneš decrees, did not fall under the jurisdiction of EU law.[20] After Klaus refused to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon unless the Czech Republic was excluded from the Charter, as Poland and the United Kingdom had been,[19] EU leaders agreed in October 2009 to amend the protocol at the time of the next treaty to include the Czech Republic,[21][22][23] in a measure designed to persuade Klaus to sign the Lisbon Treaty,[24] He subsequently signed the treaty.

In October 2011, the Czech Senate passed a resolution opposing their accession to the protocol.[25] Later, during the Czech Republic's ratification of Croatia's Treaty of EU Accession in the spring of 2012, the government attempted to hold a combined vote to approve the accession treaty and Charter opt-out. However, with the opposition parties controlling the Senate, their objections to the opt-out could have led to the accession treaty being rejected. As a result, the government decided to separate the proposed opt-out from the bill.[26]

An amendment to add the Czech Republic to Protocol 30 was subsequently proposed by the European Council.[27] A vote on a draft report by the European Parliament Constitutional Affairs Committee in January 2012 recommending that the EU not accept the Czech Republic's request to be added to Protocol 30 resulted in a tie.[28] The report argued that Protocol 30 was not functioning as a general opt-out from the charter, but only allowed the countries to limit the application of subsequent EU laws based solely on the charter. Thus, the Czech Republic would still be bound by the charter even if they were added to the Protocol. In October 2012, the committee voted not to recommend the Czech Republic's accession to the Protocol,[29] and a third draft of the report was published on 11 December 2012.[30] The report was tabled in Parliament during its session on 22 May 2013,[27] and the Parliament voted in favour of calling on the European Council "not to examine the proposed amendment of the Treaties".[27] [31][32] The Parliament did, however, give its consent in advance that a treaty revision to add the Czech Republic to Protocol 30 would not require a new convention.[33]

The text

The Charter contains some 54 articles divided into seven titles. The first six titles deal with substantive rights under the headings: dignity, freedoms, equality, solidarity, citizens' rights and justice, while the last title deals with the interpretation and application of the Charter. Much of Charter is based on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), European Social Charter, the case-law of the European Court of Justice and pre-existing provisions of European Union law.

  • The fifth title covers the rights of the EU citizens such as the right to vote in election to the European Parliament and to move freely within the EU. It also includes several administrative rights such as a right to good administration, to access documents and to petition the European Parliament.

  • The seventh title concerns the interpretation and application of the Charter. These issues are dealt with above.

Raising the Charter's profile

The EU has attempted to raise the profile of the Charter so that citizens are more aware of their rights. For example, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) has produced apps for iOS[34] and Android[35] with the text of the Charter in all EU languages and related information. It has also published mini versions of the Charter in all EU languages.

In 2010, the FRA put out a tender for poets to turn the Charter into an 80-minute long epic poem, with music, dance and multimedia elements. This was also to raise awareness and to simplify the legal text into more understandable language.[36][37] However Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom & Security, wrote to the director of the FRA slamming the idea on cost and dignity grounds and instructing him to cancel the project.[38]

See also


Further reading

External links

  • Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (and in PDF format).
  • Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union as adapted at Lisbon
  • European Parliament’s explanation of the Charter
  • Detailed Guide to the EU Charter
  • Official FAQs
  • Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union European Navigator
  • Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers
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