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18 November 2020

Applying the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in law and policymaking at national level - Guidance

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.