The Charter, the Court - and the Crisis

16 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2013

See all articles by Catherine Barnard

Catherine Barnard

University of Cambridge - Trinity College

Date Written: August 6, 2013


The incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the EU Treaties is the most profound Constitutional change in the EU in the last decade. It has created a seismic shift in the attitude of the Court of Justice to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and to human rights more generally. This has led to some key decisions, in cases such as Volker and Schecke and Test-Achats, where the Court has declared EU legislative provisions contrary to the Charter. In other cases the strong hand of the Charter can be felt orientating the direction of travel of the reasoning and the final.

Yet the same Court, in Pringle, has said that the conclusion of the European Stability Mechanism Treaty did not infringe the principle of effective judicial protection under Article 47 of the Charter because ‘the Member States are not implementing Union law, within the meaning of Article 51(1) of the Charter, when they establish a stability mechanism such as the ESM where the [TEU and TFEU] do not confer any specific competence on the Union to do so’. The same may apply to the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance (TSCG), since it, too, is an agreement between 25 Member States and not (yet) part of EU law. More generally, the Court has so far refused to apply the Charter to national measures which have been taken as part of the conditionality for ‘bail-outs’ granted by EU/IMF and national funds.

This suggests a developing twin-track approach: on the one hand the Charter will be applied with vigour to non-crisis situations; on the other, the Charter will not be applied to rules arising out of the EU’s response to the financial and economic crisis. Ultimately, such an approach, with crisis related measures in the slow lane, is not legally, politically or practically sustainable. While it is understandable that the Court does not wish to jeopardise the political compromises - some drawn up with great care, others hurriedly pulled together in the middle of the night - necessary to respond to the crisis, the tools it has used to ring fence such measures from the scrutiny of EU law, and the Charter in particular, have been pretty blunt. Further, a closer examination of the terms of the TSCG suggest that the stark dichotomy between EU law, to which the Charter will apply, and non-EU law, to which it will not, cannot be sustained in the longer term. If this is correct, this raises the question as to how the Court might decide to apply the Charter to such politically sensitive issues.

This paper is structured as follows. It will begin by arguing in section B that the Charter’s arrival has in areas not directly related to the crisis already had a profound effect on the EU’s legal and political scene. This section will distinguish between three, overlapping effects of the Charter: (1) direct impact, where the Charter has resulted in concrete reforms to EU and national law; (2) indirect impact, where the Charter has steered the development of other rules and possibly precipitated a reconsideration of earlier hierarchies; and (3) shadow effect, where the Charter itself is not cited but the decision can be understood against the backcloth of the Charter.

Second, the paper will turn to examine, ‘crisis-related’ situations where the Charter has, so far, had little impact, namely the reforms to national labour law required by the troika in the wake of the financial crisis (section C). It will then consider whether the Charter might apply to measures adopted under the ESM and TSCG. Finally, it will examine how the Court might apply the Charter when it eventually comes to hear a challenge to a national reform under the Charter. Section D concludes.

Keywords: Charter of Fundamental Rights, EU, European Union, Pringle, European Stability Mechanism Treaty

JEL Classification: K39

Suggested Citation

Barnard, Catherine, The Charter, the Court - and the Crisis (August 6, 2013). University of Cambridge Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 18/2013, Available at SSRN: or

Catherine Barnard (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge - Trinity College ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom
00 44-1223 - 33 00 33 (Phone)
00 44-1223 - 33 00 55 (Fax)

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