EU and international law

When acting in the scope of EU Law, the EU and its Member States are bound by fundamental rights in three ways:

  • The fundamental rights as listed and defined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union;
  • The fundamental rights as guaranteed by the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights, to which the EU is now also bound to accede;
  • The general principles of law as developed by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

In addition to EU law, the international legal framework, such as United Nations treaties and conventions, must be considered.

If a state is party to an international human rights treaty then this country is bound to ensure respect for the provisions it contains. International legal instruments can offer the legal basis needed to put forward a fundamental rights initiative.


The Flemish decree on equal opportunities and equal treatment implements four EU anti-discrimination directives (2000/43, 2000/78, 2002/73, 2004/113). It requires the establishment of 13 discrimination registration offices in the region. These complaint offices provide assistance to people suffering unequal treatment or discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion or race in areas that are the responsibility of the Flemish Government, such as education, housing, employment, vocational training and healthcare. The offices can mediate between parties in cases of discrimination. Besides the non-judicial settlement of complaints, they also develop preventive campaigns, which is why they are embedded in local networks of associations and organisations.

Source: Local focus group, 2011, Roeselare, Belgium


EU Member States are bound by the Charter of Fundamental Rights when implementing the EU Directive on common EU-wide standards and procedures for returning illegally-staying third-country nationals.

To support a fundamental rights-compliant application of this Directive, FRA has developed guidance on practices to apprehend migrant in an irregular situation. The document includes “dos and don’t’s” and says that migrants in an irregular situation should not be apprehended at or next to medical facilities, or next to schools. Providers of public services should also not be required to share the personal data of irregular migrants with law enforcement authorities, as such practices may deter them from accessing their right to education or necessary healthcare. As local and regional levels may be involved in apprehending irregular migrants as well as delivering basic services, such as health and education, the guidance can support local and regional institutions respect the fundamental rights of irregular migrants.

See:  FRA Publication "Fundamental rights considerations of apprehending irregular migrants"


Learning Point

Check the applicable EU law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights
The research for this toolkit showed that EU law can play an important role in the development of fundamental rights initiatives at all levels of government in EU Member States. EU legislation in the form of treaties, regulations and directives is binding for Member States. It is also transposed into, or directly applicable to the national legislative framework. EU law creates rights for individuals and must be respected by public authorities at all levels.

Respect international norms
In international law, States have the primary responsibility for fundamental rights and to put legal rights into daily practice – in policies, public services and in relation to administrative practices. This concerns public officials at all levels. Local, regional and national public authorities, for example, share and divide responsibilities for: ensuring public safety and order through a police force and courts; organising public services, such as healthcare and education; organising elections; and regulating many aspects of daily life, such as employment relations or consumer rights.


National action plans
In the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted in June 1993, the World Conference on Human Rights recommended that countries consider the desirability of drawing up a national action plan. The plan should identify steps to improve the promotion and protection of human rights. Some European countries, such as Finland, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden, have devised such national action plans or plans related to specific areas of fundamental rights.

The United Nations has published examples of national human rights plans of action and a handbook on how to draw up an action plan.