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Exploring how Member States can use the EU’s bill of rights better

Often underused and unappreciated, the EU’s bills of rights, the Fundamental Rights Charter, has untapped potential waiting to be harnessed, finds the latest Opinion from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

The Charter entered into force nine years ago and applies to all EU institutions, agencies and bodies. It also applies to the EU Member States when they implement EU law and to national courts. However, often they do not refer to the Charter. This applies for instance to assessments of the fundamental rights impact of proposed or revisions to laws.

In addition, not many policies promote the Charter rights and principles despite being obliged to do so.

To explore how Member States and EU agencies could make better use of the Charter, the European Parliament’s President asked FRA to give its Opinion on the challenges and opportunities in implementing the EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter.

Member States should offer regular targeted training for national judges and legal practitioners so they are more aware of the Charter and refer to it in their deliberations. This could be supported by a practical legal handbook such as the one FRA is currently working on.

Member States, national courts and EU agencies could also regularly exchange information and best practice on implementing the Charter. This would help raise awareness and ensure they learn from each other and have a common understanding of the Charter’s practical application.

Using established meetings of judicial and interagency networks could help. An annual dedicated meeting of the Council of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Working Party (FREMP) could be a good venue to create this shared understanding.

Member States should also regularly assess and monitor how the Charter is being applied and used in the courts. This could help them identify shortcomings and practical needs to improve its use.

Besides pointing to untapped potential, the Opinion also offers examples of the added value of the Charter and how its use can benefit legal practitioners and rightsholders alike. This ranges from national court decisions to expert views using the Charter when screening national bills.

The Opinion also suggests EU Institutions should more regularly draw on independent expert advice on fundamental rights when drawing up laws and policies. This could be facilitated by dedicated Charter focal points within EU bodies that could be consulted to ensure that external know-how is consulted wherever needed. As the European Data Protection Supervisor is regularly consulted in the context the processing of personal data, FRA, as the EU’s independent fundamental rights centre of excellence, could be called on more regularly to look into the implications for other rights in the large spectrum of entitlements covered by the Charter.

The newest proposal of the European Commission to make funding to Member States conditional to greater use of the Charter in national laws and policies is a welcome development that is hopefully agreed upon by Council and Parliament.

This Opinion will feed into a European’s Parliament report on improving the use of the Charter that it is currently preparing.

FRA issues Opinions on specific thematic topics, following requests for advice from the European Parliament, the EU Council or the European Commission. These Opinions are part of the Agency's fundamental rights assistance and expertise that it provides to EU institutions and Member States.