Bringing rights to life: The fundamental rights landscape of the European Union

This publication was originally published in 2012 as part of the FRA Annual Report: Fundamental rights: challenges and achievements in 2011.

An intricate web of national, Council of Europe, European Union (EU) and international institutions has arisen to secure and safeguard the fundamental rights of everyone in the EU. The fundamental rights landscape evolved further in 2011 with the complex interplay among multiple protective layers increasingly taking centre stage. For instance, more EU Member States established National Human Rights Institutions, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) approached its fifth year of existence and, for the first time, the EU itself was directly bound to an international human rights treaty – the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

In light of this, the UN Regional Office for Europe recommended that all these various institutions enhance their cooperation to minimise the risk of gaps in fundamental rights protection. Meeting this challenge is essential to making fundamental rights a reality in the daily lives of all those who live in the EU. A closer look at the existing fundamental rights landscape also reveals that it is increasingly important not only to consider the duty bearers – that is, states – but also the rights holders – that is, individuals. Their experiences and perceptions must be taken into account to guarantee that the European fundamental rights structure makes a difference on the ground and does not become an end in itself.