Brussels, 31 March 2011
European Commission report tracks progress in enforcing fundamental rights in the EU
The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has now been legally binding for over a year – primarily on the EU institutions (European Parliament, Council and the European Commission) when preparing new European laws, but also on national authorities if they are implementing EU law. As part of its efforts to make fundamental rights a reality for citizens in the EU, the European Commission is reporting for the first time on how the Charter is being applied. The Annual Report on the application of the Charter shows that fundamental rights are relevant across a wide range of policies – from data protection to immigration and asylum – and that public interest in the Charter runs high. However, the report also highlights that the Charter is frequently misunderstood. In 2010, the Commission received more than 4,000 letters from the general public regarding fundamental rights. Approximately three quarters of these concerned cases outside the remit of EU law. In addition, a recent survey by the European Ombudsman found that 72% of Europeans do not feel well informed about the Charter (EO/11/6). Today's report is a first step in addressing these challenges, clarifying where the Charter applies and where it does not. This will ease citizens' access to justice. The report should help citizens determine where they need to turn when they believe that their fundamental rights have been violated by an EU institution or a national authority. The Annual Report is therefore part of the Commission's strategy to ensure that fundamental rights are effectively implemented so that people can rely on them in practice (see IP/10/1348).
"To make the Charter work in practice, people need to know their rights and how to apply them so that justice can be done," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. "The EU is not a fundamental rights supercop. The Charter applies primarily to the EU institutions. Rights must be enforced by national judges under national constitutions in the first instance." She added: "However, when EU law applies, I will not tolerate any violation of fundamental rights. This report helps us track progress so we can take action when needed and draw lessons for the future."
"This report marks an important milestone on the road to fulfilling the EU's commitment to fundamental rights. It will guide the EU in its policy and law making, and makes clear where more action is needed – by the EU institutions or the Member States – to uphold fundamental rights for everyone in the EU," said Morten Kjaerum, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.
People's interest and expectations about the enforcement of the EU Fundamental Rights Charter are high. At the same time, a large number of complaints received concerned situations where the Charter could not be applied (see Annex). This reflects a frequent misunderstanding about the purpose of the Charter and the situations where the Charter applies or does not apply, as well as the EU's role.
Today's report therefore aims to help better inform the public as to when they can rely on the Charter. In particular, it seeks to clarify the respective roles of Member States and their national systems for protecting rights on the one hand, and the European Commission on the other. Individuals who consider that their fundamental rights have been breached need to know where to turn so they can access justice.
Today's report gives the first comprehensive overview of how fundamental rights are being implemented in the EU following the Lisbon Treaty, which made the Charter legally binding. The report highlights how the rights enshrined in the Charter must always be taken into careful consideration by the EU institutions, while Member States are bound by the Charter only in cases where they implement EU policies and law. The report is structured into six chapters reflecting the six titles of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights: Dignity, Freedoms, Equality, Solidarity, Citizens' Rights and Justice (see Annex). It shows that the Charter is relevant across a range of policies for which the EU is responsible.
For example, regarding the use of body scanners at airports, the Commission highlighted the need to respect fundamental rights such as human dignity, private and family life and data privacy. In border management, the Commission proposed new rules to make border surveillance at sea more effective while ensuring the respect of fundamental rights of migrants intercepted at sea. The Commission also proposed amendments to the rules governing Frontex, the EU’s external borders agency (see IP/10/184). The proposals require that border control official undertake training in fundamental rights and that any incidents during operations, including in relation to fundamental rights, must be reported to the national authorities and followed up.
The EU’s Court of Justice has also played an important role in upholding the Charter. In particular, regarding the right of personal data protection, the Court on 9 November 2010 invalidated part of EU legislation that required the publication of the names of natural persons that were recipients of funds deriving from the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. In a landmark equality case, the Court ruled on 1 March that different insurance premiums for women and men constitute sex discrimination and are not compatible with the Charter (MEMO/11/123). Member States are not allowed to derogate from this important principle in their national legislation.
In 2010, the Commission took action to ensure the right for all EU citizens to move and settle down in another EU country and the right not to be discriminated. To ensure these rights, the Commission took immediate action following events in the summer of 2010 involving the expulsion of EU citizens of Roma origin from France (SPEECH/10/428 and MEMO/10/502). The Commission carefully checked whether the relevant operations had been carried out in full compliance with EU requirements. Following the Commission's action, France and other Member States are now changing their rules in order to bring them fully in line with EU rules on free movement.
With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union became legally binding.
In October 2010, the Commission adopted a strategy to ensure that the Charter is effectively implemented. It developed a "Fundamental Rights Check List" to reinforce the evaluation of impacts on fundamental rights of its legislative proposals (see Annex). The Commission also committed to providing information to citizens on when it can intervene in fundamental rights issues and to publishing an Annual Report on the Charter’s application to monitor the progress achieved. The publication of this report follows a long-standing request of the European Parliament.
The Commission's Annual Report on the Application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is available on:
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner:
1. Overview of letters and questions to the Commission on fundamental rights
2. Share of letters according to topic
3. The Commission's “Fundamental Rights "Check List"
1. Which fundamental rights are affected?
2. Are the rights in question absolute rights (which may not be subject to limitations, examples being human dignity and the ban on torture)?
3. What is the impact of the various policy options under consideration on fundamental rights? Is the impact beneficial (promotion of fundamental rights) or negative (limitation of fundamental rights)?
4. Do the options have both a beneficial and a negative impact, depending on the fundamental rights concerned (for example, a negative impact on freedom of expression and beneficial one on intellectual property)?
5. Would any limitation of fundamental rights be formulated in a clear and predictable manner?
6. Would any limitation of fundamental rights:
- be necessary to achieve an objective of general interest or to protect the rights and freedoms of others (which)?
- be proportionate to the desired aim?
- preserve the essence of the fundamental rights concerned?
4. Explaining when the Charter applies and when it does not