ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESEARCH SITE (EPRS) 27-03-2015 (*)
Author Francesca FERRARO
ABSTRACT: The European Union, like its Member States, has to comply with the principle of the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights when fulfilling the tasks set out in the Treaties. These legal obligations have been framed progressively by the case law of the European Court of Justice. The Court filled the gaps in the original Treaties, thus simultaneously ensuring the autonomy and consistency of the EU legal order and its relation with national constitutional orders. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, these principles have also been expressly laid down in the Treaties and in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Being part of the body of EU constitutional rules and principles, the Charter is binding upon the EU institutions when adopting new measures, as well as for Member States during implementation. The Charter is the point of reference, not only for the Court of Justice, but also for the EU legislature, especially when EU legislation gives specific expression to fundamental rights. Moreover, fundamental rights are also of relevance for EU legislation covering all the other areas of Union competence.
The protection of fundamental rights was not explicitly included in the founding Treaties of the European Communities, which contained only a small number of articles that could have had a direct bearing on the protection of the rights of individuals. For example, in the EEC Treaty, the rules on the general prohibition on discrimination on grounds of nationality (Article 7), on the freedom of movement for workers (Article 48), on the freedom to provide services (Article 52), on improved working conditions and an improved standard of living for workers (Article 117), on equal pay for men and women (Article 119), and on the protection of persons and protection of rights (Article 220), may be considered to have had a such bearing.
An explicit reference to fundamental rights at Treaty level appeared only over 30 years later, with the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty (1993). Indeed, according to Article F of the Treaty on European Union, the EU was obliged to: respect fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States as general principles of Community law.
Since the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty (1999), and notably of the Lisbon Treaty (2009), protecting fundamental rights is a founding element of the European Union and an essential component of the development of the supranational European Area of Freedom, Security and Justice.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, originally solemnly proclaimed in Nice in 2000, has the same legal value as the Treaties. Even if it does not extend the competences of the Union, it gives them a new ‘soul’ by focusing on the rights of the individual with regard to all EU policies. The Charter draws on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the European Social Charter and other human-rights conventions, as well as the constitutional traditions common to the EU Member States, as stated in case law of the European Court of Justice. However, it also updates them by recognising new kinds of rights protecting individuals from new forms of abuses by public or private entities (such as the right to the protection of personal data and to good administration). The Charter is binding upon the EU institutions when enacting new measures, as well as for the Member States whenever they act within the scope of EU law.1
The Charter is the reference not only for the Court of Justice but also for EU law-making institutions, in particular the Commission, when launching new proposals which give ‘specific expression to fundamental rights’.2 This is the case with EU policies dealing with anti-discrimination, asylum, data protection, transparency, good administration, and procedural rights in civil and criminal proceedings. Nevertheless, fundamental rights (and the Charter) come into play in EU legislation in any other domain of EU competence, such as transport, competition, customs and border control. As these policies can also have an impact on the rights of citizens and other individuals, such as human dignity, privacy, the right to be heard and freedom of movement, EU and Member-State law should take the Charter into account when regulating these spheres.
An essential aspect of the EU’s fundamental rights policy will be the Union’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, which became obligatory under the Lisbon Treaty (Article 6(2) TEU).3 This would complement the system of protection of fundamental rights by conferring competence on the European Court of Human Rights to review EU measures while taking account of the Union’s specific legal order.
2. EU Fundamental rights prior to the Lisbon Treaty Continue reading “Fundamental Rights in the European Union: The role of the Charter after the Lisbon Treaty”