As a very modern human rights catalogue containing many rights not found in established bills of rights, the Charter indeed looks good on paper. Those familiar with the main principles of EU law can usually quickly recite that the Charter is always binding on the EU, and binding on Member States only when they are “implementing EU law”. But what does this often-quoted language from Article 51 of the Charter actually mean?
The reality is that practitioners are often unsure whether or not the Charter applies to a given situation, and how it adds value. Even in expert circles, what does and does not fall within the Charter’s field of application is not always well understood. Not surprisingly then, a decade after the Charter’s entry into force, a review of its performance in practice yields a mixed picture. Legal practitioners – be they judges, civil servants or law and policymakers – seldom refer to the Charter. When they do, the references tend to be superficial. A sense of hesitancy emerges.
As a result, the Council of the European Union has encouraged Member States to exchange and map best practices on, and develop common tools for, raising awareness of the Charter. It has also noted that the Fundamental Rights Agency could help train national civil servants, and specifically requested the agency to draft a handbook on the Charter’s domestic application for practitioners and non-specialists.
This handbook aims to foster better understanding of the Charter, including when it applies in law and policymaking. Carrying out a detailed check on the Charter’s applicability will always pay off. Even when the conclusion is that it does not apply, performing a “Charter check” emphasises the relevance of human rights in the context of law and policymaking. That is in itself an achievement as it helps strengthen awareness.
Download the publication on the website of the Fundamental Rights Agency.