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European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 8 May 2013

EU Charter is making fundamental rights a reality for citizens

Three years after it became legally binding, the impact of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights is increasingly clear. It is becoming a point of reference not only for the EU institutions when drawing up legislation but also for the European and national courts, making fundamental rights a reality for citizens in Europe. These are the findings of today's third annual report on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, covering 2012, which illustrates with a wide range of fundamental rights related cases that the EU is continuing to build a more coherent system for protecting people’s fundamental rights. Today’s report is accompanied by a new progress report on equality between women and men during 2012 and it coincides with a series of new actions to reinforce citizens’ rights that the Commission has put forward in its 2013 EU Citizenship Report (see IP/13/410 and MEMO/13/409).

Fundamental rights are the foundation on which the European Union is built: they must be continuously protected and strengthened. This is what citizens expect from us”, said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. “The Commission is determined to lead by example, which is why we have taken action to put fundamental rights into effect wherever the EU has the power to do so, from safeguarding personal data protection, to promoting gender equality, to guaranteeing fair trial rights. The EU Fundamental Rights Charter is not just a document – it is becoming the reality for Europe's 500 million citizens. This is also thanks to national courts which are increasingly bringing the Charter to life.

Today's report gives a comprehensive overview of how fundamental rights have been implemented in the EU over the past year. It highlights, for example, how the rights enshrined in the Charter are taken into careful consideration by the EU institutions when proposing and adopting EU legislation, 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 MEMO IP/13/411 for more details).

The report reveals that the fundamental rights related issues most frequently raised by citizens in their correspondence with the Commission were free movement and residence (18% of all letters on fundamental rights to the Commission), the functioning of national justice systems (15%), access to justice (12.5%), freedom to choose an occupation and the right to engage in work (7.5%), integration of people with disabilities (4.5%), and protection of personal data (4%) (see Annex for the full breakdown).

Two ways of making the Charter a reality

1. Commission action to promote the Charter

Where the EU has competence to act, the Commission can propose EU legislation that gives concrete effect to the rights and principles of the Charter.

Examples of Commission proposals during 2012 include:

  1. the proposed major reform of the EU's rules on the protection of personal data (IP/13/46);

  2. the pro-active approach taken to accelerate progress towards a better gender balance on the corporate boards of European companies listed on stock exchanges (IP/12/1205);

  3. the steps taken to safeguard procedural rights and victims’ rights (IP/12/575, IP/12/1200).

As guardian of the Treaties, the Commission is committed to intervening where necessary to make sure Member States implement EU law effectively while complying with the Charter.

Examples of infringement proceedings in 2012 include:

  1. the Commission's action contesting the early retirement of around 274 judges and public prosecutors in Hungary caused by a sudden reduction of the mandatory retirement age for this profession from 70 to 62. The Court of Justice of the EU upheld the Commission's assessment (MEMO/12/832) that this mandatory retirement is incompatible with EU equal treatment law (the Directive prohibiting discrimination on the basis of age and Article 21 of the Charter);

  2. infringement action to enforce the right of same-sex spouses or registered partners to join EU citizens and reside with them in Malta (under the EU's Free Movement Directive, IP/11/981).

2. Courts relying on the Charter

After just three years in force as primary law, the take up of the Charter by national courts when EU law is involved can be seen as a positive sign. For example, the Austrian Constitutional Court handed down a landmark judgement regarding the application of the Charter in domestic judicial review of constitutionality. The Austrian court ruled that individuals can rely on the rights and principles of the EU Charter when challenging the lawfulness of domestic legislation.

The Court of Justice of the European Union has also increasingly referred to the Charter in its decisions: the number of decisions quoting the Charter in its reasoning almost doubled, from 43 in 2011 to 87 in 2012. National courts when addressing questions to the Court of Justice (preliminary rulings) have also increasingly referred to the Charter: in 2012, such references rose by over 50% as compared to 2011, from 27 to 41.

The increasing reference to the Charter is an important step on the road to a more coherent system for the protection of fundamental rights which guarantees equal levels of rights and protection in all Member States, whenever EU law is being implemented.

Fundamental rights protection will be further enhanced with the EU's accession to the European Convention of Human Rights. Negotiations on the accession agreement have been finalised.

Charter awareness improved

During 2012, the Commission received over 4000 letters, petitions and questions from citizens and European Parliamentarians, concerning fundamental rights issues. Most letters (58%) concerned situations where the Charter could apply. This shows that the Commission’s efforts to raise awareness of how and where the Charter applies are paying off: in 2010, 69% of the letters were on cases outside the EU's competence.

Report on progress in gender equality in 2012

To evaluate progress on the fundamental right to equality, a separate report on progress in implementing the European gender equality strategy was also published today. It finds that women represent a growing share of the EU workforce and are increasingly the main breadwinners for their families. The share of women working rose from 55% in 1997 to 62.4% now. It is, however, still much lower than the share of working men (74.6%). Before the crisis women were slowly catching up with men on the labour markets of all European countries. However, the crisis has halted these positive trends. Male employment dropped faster and more significantly than female employment - which is the real reason for narrowing the gender gap in employment.

Women still face high barriers to advancing into the highest decision-making levels. The Commission proposal for gender balance on boards of publicly listed companies is a milestone for gender equality. Intense public debate and regulatory measures have contributed to improving gender balance in decision-making and the 2012 figures on women on boards shows the highest year-on-year change yet recorded (IP/13/51).

While the report shows that some progress has been made, significant challenges remain in most fields. To meet the targets of the Europe 2020 Strategy and of the Strategy on equality between women and men, Member States need to make further efforts.

Background

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. The Charter sets out fundamental rights – such as freedom of expression and the protection of personal data – that reflect Europe’s common values and its constitutional heritage.

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. 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, following a request by the European Parliament. Practical information on enforcing one's rights is available via the European e-Justice portal.

For more information

MEMO/13/411

Press Pack:

http://ec.europa.eu/justice/newsroom/citizen/news/130508_en.htm

European Commission – Fundamental rights:

http://ec.europa.eu/justice/fundamental-rights/index_en.htm

European Commission – Gender equality:

http://ec.europa.eu/justice/gender-equality/index_en.htm

Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship:

http://ec.europa.eu/reding

Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU

Contacts :

Mina Andreeva (+32 2 299 13 82)

Natasha Bertaud (+32 2 296 74 56)

ANNEX


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