The Impact of the Lisbon Treaty, in Particular Article 6 TEU, on Member States’ Obligations with Respect to the Protection of Fundamental Rights
64 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2010
Date Written: July 29, 2010
1.1. The new legal status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights: The much anticipated entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty brought about a number of changes and additions to the existing body of Union law. A significant addition can be found in Article 6 TEU which reads:
1. The Union recognises the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union of 7 December 2000, as adapted at Strasbourg, on 12 December 2007, which shall have the same legal value as the Treaties. The provisions of the Charter shall not extend in any way the competences of the Union as defined in the Treaties. The rights, freedoms and principles in the Charter shall be interpreted in accordance with the general provisions in Title VII of the Charter governing its interpretation and application and with due regard to the explanations referred to in the Charter, that set out the sources of those provisions.
2. The Union shall accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Such accession shall not affect the Union's competences as defined in the Treaties.
3. Fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, shall constitute general principles of the Union's law.
These recent developments may be viewed in light of criticism that has been raised against the EU for an inconsistent and incoherent approach to fundamental rights protection. In particular, criticism has been voiced over how the EU’s strong insistence on fundamental rights protection in its external relations did not appear to be matched by an equally strong “internal” focus on such fundamental rights protection. Some commentators also took the view that the EU at its then current state (at the turn of the millennium) was inappropriate as a human rights organisation in its own right.
In this light, it is clear that with the new Article 6 TEU the protection of fundamental rights in the EU context has been taken to a new level. While the EU perhaps cannot be said to have become a proper “human rights organisation”, clearly steps have been taken in the Lisbon Treaty to highlight the EU’s commitment to fundamental rights protection. An immediate example would be the obligation for the EU to accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the ECHR/the Convention).
Moreover, Article 6 TEU also brings about changes for the Member States. By turning the Charter of Fundamental Rights into a legally binding instrument, Article 6 TEU also obliges the Member States to respect the provisions of the Charter.
The new legal status of the Charter raises several questions. First of all, however, it should be noted that the Member States’ obligation to respect fundamental rights is not a new creation. In fact, this obligation has been enforced by the European Court of Justice (the ECJ) on numerous occasions in the past.
With the new legal status of the Charter, has the obligation to respect and even protect fundamental rights also been elevated to a new and higher status in Union law? If so, what does that entail?
Keywords: Lisbon Treaty, Article 6, Charter of Fundamental Rights
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