16 May 2000
By the Select Committee appointed to consider European
Union documents and other matters relating to the European Union.
EU CHARTER OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS
1. The occasion for this report is the current proposal
of the Cologne European Council in June 1999 that the fundamental
rights applicable at EU level should be consolidated in a Charter
and thereby made more evident. The need to respect human rights
is deeply engrained in the traditions and constitutions of the
Member States of the European Union. At the wider European level
the fount and guardian of such rights is universally recognised
as being the Council of Europe. It was under its auspices that
the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
(ECHR) and the European Court of Human Rights were set up. The
Community Treaties in their original form contained no requirement
for either the Member States or the institutions to observe human
rights. Both the European Community and now the Union have gradually
absorbed human rights into their laws and policies, both internal
and external. The European Court of Justice has adopted and applied
such rights as "general principles" of Community law.
Moreover fundamental rights have, in a succession of Treaty amendments,
taken on a higher profile. The changes made at Maastricht and
Amsterdam, and the consequent accelerated movement into the areas
of justice and home affairs (by way of the "third pillar"
and the incorporation of the Schengen acquis), have served
to emphasise the importance of ensuring that the Community institutions,
the new bodies such as Europol, and the Member States when giving
effect to Community or Union legislation, pay strict regard to
international and domestic human rights standards.
2. Although the institutions of the European Community
and (since 1993) the Union have operated for more than 40 years
without reference to a tailor-made Charter of Fundamental Rights,
the idea of such a Charter is not new. A proposal to that effect
was put forward by the European Parliament in 1989. The possibility
was also mooted at the time of the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference
(IGC). The current proposal for a Charter of Fundamental Rights
is but the latest attempt to raise the status of human rights
in the EU. The difference, this time, is that the initiative has
been endorsed at the highest political level and machinery has
been established to take it forward.
3. In June 1999, the European Council meeting in
Cologne decided that a European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights
should be established to consolidate fundamental rights applicable
at Union level and, as noted above, to make "their overriding
importance and relevance more visible to the Union's citizens".
The Charter was to contain the fundamental rights and freedoms
as well as basic procedural rights guaranteed by the ECHR and
derived from the constitutional traditions common to the Member
States as general principles of Community law. It was also to
include the fundamental rights that pertain only to the Union's
citizens and to take account of economic and social rights as
contained in the European Social Charter and the Community Charter
of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers.
4. The Cologne European Council also agreed a timetable
and a procedural framework for the drawing up of the Charter.
In October 1999 the European Council meeting in Tampere reached
agreement on the composition and working methods of a drafting
body as well as on the practical arrangements for its activities.
The body, somewhat confusingly
called "the Convention", consists of representatives
of the Heads of States or Government, a representative of the
President of the European Commission, Members of the European
Parliament and representatives from national parliaments. The
draft Charter will be submitted to the European Council at Nice
in December 2000.
5. The first meeting of the Convention took place
on 17 December 1999. Mr Roman Herzog
was elected, by acclamation, to be the Chairman. Each of the three
main groups of members presented its own elected Vice-Chairman.
The United Kingdom Government is represented by Lord Goldsmith
QC. Lord Bowness and Mr Win Griffiths MP represent the House of
Lords and the House of Commons respectively. The Convention has
met, as a full body or as a working group, on an almost weekly
basis since it was set up. A report on progress is proposed to
be made to the Feira European Council in June. It seems likely
that a first full draft of the Charter will be publicly available
6. The idea of an EU Charter has proved from the
outset to be controversial and it has produced a variety of reactions
and discussion papers. The response in the UK has been substantial,
not least perhaps because of the increased interest in, and impetus
to be given to, the enforcement of fundamental rights in this
country by the Human Rights Act 1998 and because of the existence
of well-informed and experienced human rights non-governmental
organisations (NGOs). Despite the apparent limitations of the
Conclusions agreed at the Cologne European Council, expectations
have been raised throughout the Member States and such issues
as the relationship of the Union and its institutions to the ECHR
have been put back onto the political agenda. Our Committee decided
to look at the broad issues arising from the initiative. We sought
views, in particular, on the questions of the need for and purpose
of an EU Charter, the legal status it should have, and its scope
and content. Since we commenced our inquiry draft texts have been
prepared and discussed in the Convention. While we have had the
benefit of seeing some of them, we have not looked at these drafts
in any detail. We see our task at this stage of the proposal as
being to focus on the main issues of principle which any EU Charter
7. The inquiry on the proposal to establish a Charter
of Fundamental Rights was carried out by Sub-Committee E (Law
and Institutions) under the chairmanship of Lord Hope of Craighead.
The membership of the Sub-Committee is listed in Appendix 1. The
witnesses are listed in Appendix 2. The evidence, written and
oral, is printed with the Report. We would like to thank all those
who assisted in the enquiry.
8. The subsequent Parts of this Report are as follows.
Part 2 describes the development of the Community's, and then
the Union's, recognition of human rights. Part 3 contains a summary
of the evidence received. Part 4 sets out the Committee's opinion
1 Because in the context of human rights in Europe
the ECHR is commonly referred to as the Convention. Back
President of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1994 to 1999
and, before that, from 1987, President of the Federal Constitutional