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Fundamental rights – a foundation for Europe

The Charter of Fundamental Rights brings Europe closer to the citizens. Before signing the Treaty of Lisbon, representatives of the key EU institutions proclaimed and signed the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union during a ceremony in Strasbourg. Upon entry into force of the EU Reform Treaty, the Charter will become legally binding.

The Portuguese President of the Council José Sócrates, Commission President José Manuel Barroso and President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering signed the document containing 54 articles on civil, political, economic and social fundamental rights. Barroso underscored that the Charter is a signal that the EU sees citizens' rights as the core of its work. With the Charter, Pöttering feels in turn that the EU is showing we are not just a question of economic calculation but first and foremost a community of shared values.

At the Cologne European Council on 3 and 4 June 1999, the European Heads of State and Government decided to draw up a Charter of Fundamental Rights to visibly anchor the overriding importance of these rights and their relevance for the Union's citizens. Subsequently, a Convention bringing together representatives of all EU Member States and the European Parliament chaired by former Federal President Roman Herzog drew up a draft Charter.

As early as 2000 the Charter of Fundamental Rights was officially proclaimed at the EU Summit in Nice. But it did not become legally binding because the Constitution was rejected in referenda in France and the Netherlands.

The Reform Treaty (or Lisbon Treaty as it is also known) makes the Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding. The Heads of State and Government signed the Reform Treaty in the Portuguese capital on 13 December, thus giving the EU a foundation for the 21st century.

Negotiating the treaty was a central aim of the Federal Government during the German Presidency of the EU in the first six months of 2007.

Protection from the infringement of rights by European institutions

In practice, the Charter is extremely important. On the one hand, the European Parliament and Commission have declared the Charter to be binding for their work and draw on it regularly to monitor their own actions. Furthermore, it is the basis and reference document for the European Ombudsman as well as the European Fundamental Rights Agency which took up its work in January 2007.

National courts as well as the European Court of First Instance, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice refer to the Charter as a basis for legal decisions. Yet it is important that today Community fundamental rights are only binding upon the Member States when it comes to implementing Union rights according to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. In the case of national legal acts, the fundamental rights laid down in the respective constitutions prevail. This will not change even with the Charter's entry into force.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights includes seven chapters on dignity, freedoms, equality, solidarity, citizens' rights, justice and general provisions. It guarantees rights such as the inviolability of human dignity, the right to freedom of opinion, asylum law or the right to entrepreneurial freedom.

Value added of the Charter of Fundamental Rights

The Charter helps increase the transparency of the protection of fundamental rights in Europe. It collates rights in a single legal text which were previously to be found in various international and national legal instruments. Furthermore, the Charter underscores that Europe is now much more than an economic community. Europe is a community of shared values which has the citizens at its heart. The citizens themselves can now consult a concise text to discover the values on which Europe is based.

Unlike other catalogues of fundamental rights, the Charter also takes due account of the technological and scientific developments which have taken place in recent decades. It prescribes the protection of personal data and prohibits human cloning. 


Last updated 12.12.2007