Frequently asked questions


How does the EU safeguard fundamental rights?

The EU is based on the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

All personal, civil, political, economic and social rights enjoyed by people within the EU are contained in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The Charter became legally binding across the EU with the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon in December 2009. It applies to everyone living in the EU.

EU institutions must respect the rights enshrined in the Charter. The Charter also applies to EU Member States, but only when they implement EU law. The EU cannot intervene in fundamental rights issues in areas over which it has no competence, such as education. Such areas fall under Member States responsibilities.

The European Commission has also adopted a strategy for the effective implementation of the Charter. The aim is to ensure that any new legislation and policies, or revisions of existing laws, are based on evidence from the ground, and take fundamental rights into consideration. For this and other specialist advice on fundamental rights, EU bodies rely on the data and information as well as analysis provided by the Fundamental Rights Agency, and other bodies. More detail on how FRA provides evidence-based advice to EU institutions and Member States see FRA support below.

The EU will also accede to the European Convention on Human Rights. This means the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg will be able to review EU acts.

How do EU Member States safeguard fundamental rights?

Member States have both the authority and responsibility to put rights into practice on a day-to-day basis – from education to employment, from public safety to healthcare. In addition, regions and municipalities often play a major role in implementing rights on the ground.

When it comes to complaints about fundamental rights violations, EU Member States use various national structures to ensure that rights protected by national, European and international law are implemented in practice. All Member States have functioning court systems which allow individuals to settle cases. Ombudsperson institutions, data protection authorities, equality bodies and national human rights institutions, often exist at the national level and also help promote and protect fundamental rights, including dealing with complaints. The rights each body covers vary from country to country. Some Member States consolidate all fundamental rights issues under the mandate of a single NHRI (National Human Rights Institution); in others, several bodies exist with responsibility for different issues with varying degrees of power. 

How does FRA support fundamental rights? 

The agency is the only independent body mandated to deal with the full spectrum of fundamental rights as enshrined in the Charter. It provides comparable data on an important number of fundamental rights issues across Member States. This enables Europe’s decision makers base their policies and legislation on robust independent evidence-based advice, thereby helping to make fundamental rights a reality for everyone in the EU. 

To do this, FRA:

  • provides data and information that would otherwise not be available;
  • conducts activities that can only be carried out at EU level, for example by providing consistent, standardised information across the 28 Member States on minorities discrimination, access to health care by irregular migrants, and many other issues;
  • is a trusted source of independent advice on EU fundamental rights legislation and policies such as the proposed EU Directive on the use of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data;
  • maps the fundamental challenges and achievements across the EU each year in its annual report;
  • acts as a bridge between the different islands in the complex fundamental rights landscape that exists in the EU today;
  • raises the profile of fundamental rights issues at national and European level through activities, such as the Fundamental Rights Conference, etc;
  • provides a platform for different fundamental rights players to meet and discuss difficult issues;
  • brings together diverse civil society organisations, both thematically and geographically, to facilitate information and promising practice exchange to ‘shared’ challenges;
  • provides practical and user-friendly information through projects such as handbooks for lawyers on European non-discrimination law or ethnic profiling for the police.

More information on how FRA works can be found in the ‘About FRA’ pages online. 

However, it is the EU institutions and Member States that draft, change and implement the laws and policies that have an impact on people living in the EU.

What role does civil society play?

The degree to which civil society is involved in programming, policy making and the general debate on fundamental rights protection differs from Member State to Member State. Civil society consists of many types of organisations including NGOs, academics, journalists, bloggers, students, trade unions, labour organisations and charities working with vulnerable groups. They all have a legitimate role as human rights defenders. They often:

  • document violations and call for remedial action, both at a governmental and grassroots level;
  • monitor the actions of governments and pressure them to act according to human rights principles;
  • work with government and international institutions to ensure human rights protection;
  • provide assistance and support to individuals and intervene on their behalf;
  • represent victims or victim groups in courts or other tribunals.

Civil society organisations active in the field of fundamental rights can engage in FRA’s Fundamental Rights Platform (FRP). This platform brings together over 350 civil society organisations from across the EU, working on a diverse range of fundamental rights issues.

Are fundamental rights in Europe deteriorating or improving?

The EU has recently adopted key legislative and policy measures in, for example, the areas of victim protection, human trafficking and the integration of Roma. Various EU Member States, among other steps, reformed their child protection systems and made efforts to shorten the length of court proceedings.

However, there continue to be stark and tragic reminders of how far the excesses of extreme intolerance can go if left unchecked. Many groups in society continue to live in fear of living their lives openly (e.g. see FRA EU LGBT survey and antisemitism survey). Equality and non-discrimination therefore remain core concerns. The EU and its Member States must also remain on guard to ensure that prevailing economic weakness does not threaten the fulfilment of the fundamental rights of EU citizens.

What is the difference between human rights and fundamental rights?

The term ‘fundamental rights’ is used in European Union (EU) to express the concept of ‘human rights’ within a specific EU internal context.

Traditionally, the term ‘fundamental rights’ is used in a constitutional setting whereas the term ‘human rights’ is used in international law. The two terms refer to similar substance as can be seen when comparing the content in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union with that of the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter.