The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
At the Cologne summit on 4 June 1999 it was decided that a Charter on Fundamental Rights of the European Union should be drawn up. The European Council stated "There appears to be a need, at the present stage of the Union's development, to establish a Charter of fundamental rights in order to make their overriding importance and relevance more visible to the Union's citizens." The charter is to include the general rights of liberty and equality as well as fundamental rights that pertain only to the Union's citizens. It must also take account of economic and social rights.
The European Parliament, which had been calling for such a charter for many years, warmly welcomed this decision. In its resolution of 16 September 1999 on the Cologne European Council, Parliament said the Charter represented "one of its constitutional priorities" and stressed the need "for an open and innovative approach to shaping the Charter, the nature of the rights to be featured in it, and the part it will play and the status it will command in the constitutional development of the Union".
Role and composition of the Convention
The European Council entrusted the task of drafting the Charter to a Convention made up of 15 representatives of heads of state or government, 16 Members of the European Parliament, 30 members of national parliaments and a Commissioner representing the President of the Commission. The constituent sitting of the Convention was held on 17 December 1999. Since then it has met regularly, either in Parliament's Brussels buildings or at the Council.
The Bureau of the Convention, which acts as a "drafting committee" or collective rapporteur, consists of the President, Roman Herzog, and representatives of the European Parliament (Mr Méndez de Vigo), the national parliaments (Mr Jansson), the Commission (Mr Vitorino) and the Council Presidency (Mr Bacelar).
Working method and recent developments
The committee successively drafted the various categories of rights and submitted them to the Convention, which then, in the form of a working party, examined them. On the basis of these discussions, the committee finalised all of the draft articles, to which the members of the Convention submitted their amendments. The amendments to the first two articles on civil and political rights were examined by the Convention at its third plenary session on June 5 and 6.
The Convention also held a hearing with NGOs, organisations with an interest in the issue of fundamental rights on April 27 and with EU applicant countries on June 19. The Convention proceeded with the amendments on civil and political rights and citizens’ rights on June 28-30 and went on to the amendments on social rights and horizontal clauses on July 10 and 11. At its last meeting before the summer break on July 17-19, they concluded a discussion on social rights and horizontal clauses and exchanged their views on the Draft Preamble and the structure of the Charter. The preliminary draft will be available on July 28 and accessible on the EP and EU Council’s Charter web sites.
The Convention has decided to discuss the comments on the preliminary draft at its sixth plenary sitting on September 11-13 and reach the final decision on September 25-26, in order to enable the European Council to include the Charter in the topics for consideration by the intergovernmental conference on the revision of the treaties and thus in time for it to be considered by the Biarritz European Council on October 2000.
The European Parliament’s Role
The role of Parliament's delegation to the Convention is identical to that of the representatives of the Member States and the national parliaments. This is thus the first case in which the EP is being involved in a process, which could result in a decision of a "constitutional" nature.
The working body assigned to the Charter in the European Parliament is the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, which examines the work of the Convention on a regular basis along with the reports of the chairmen of the EP delegation, Mr. Méndez de Vigo.
Content and implementation of the Charter
The Charter includes civil and political rights, economic and social rights and rights deriving from European citizenship, as well as horizontal clauses.
The Charter will in principle synthesise fundamental rights as recognised in the Community treaties, in the constitutional principles common to the Member States, in the European Human Rights Convention and in the social charters of the EU and the Council of Europe. The Charter is intended to protect the fundamental rights of individuals against action taken by the institutions of the Union and by the Member States in application of the treaties and to make the existing fundamental rights more visible for the citizens. It must be emphasised that the Charter does not confer any additional powers upon the European institutions.
The decision on whether the Charter is to be binding or have the standing of a declaration is not to be taken by the Convention but the European Council. However, the Convention decided to draft the Charter in a form, which will enable it, if necessary to be used as a legislative text. The European Parliament has taken a position in favour of a Charter to be enshrined in the treaties in order to make it legally binding on the Community and for all persons protected by the Charter to be entitled to ask the EU Court of Justice to enforce their rights. If the Charter is to be binding, the question of judicial control (in particular access for private individuals to the Court of Justice) as well as the matter of the field of application (applicable for all EU residents or only EU citizens) need to be settled. Moreover, the relation between the Charter and the European Human Rights Convention needs to be clarified; in this connection the possibility of the Union signing up to the latter convention could be considered once again.
Mr. Méndez de Vigo, Vice-Chair of the Convention briefed on work in hand at the European Council in Feira on June 19. The heads of states and governments of EU member states recognised a considerable political importance of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and recommended the Convention to continue its work in accordance with the timetable laid down in the mandate from the Cologne European Council so that a draft document is presented in advance of the European Council in October 2000.
More information about the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights on the Internet:
European Parliament - site on the Charter
Council of the European Union - site on the Charter