AuthorMichael O’Flaherty
The European Unio n has been equipp ed with its own bill of r ights – the Char ter of
Fundamental R ights – since 2000. It became l egally binding in 200 9, and has the same
legal value as th e EU treaties.
As a very moder n human rights catalogue contai ning many rights not found in estab -
lished bills of rig hts, the Charter i ndeed look s good on paper. Those fa miliar with the
main principl es of EU law can usually qu ickly recite that the Ch arter is always bin ding
on the EU, and bindi ng on Member States only when they are “imp lementing EU law”.
But what does this of ten-quoted language from A rticle 51 of the Charter ac tually mean?
The reality is that pr actitioners are often unsure wheth er or not the Charter applies
to a given situation, an d how it adds value. Even in e xpert circles , what does and
does not fall withi n the Charter’s f‌ield of application is n ot always well understood.
Not surprisingl y then, a decade af ter the Charter ’s entry into force, a review of its
performance in p ractice yields a mixed picture. Leg al practitioners – be they judg es,
civil servant s or law and policymakers – seldom refe r to the Charter. When they do,
the references tend to be super f‌icial. A sense of hesitancy eme rges.
As a result, the Cou ncil of the European Un ion has encourage d Member States to
exchange and map b est practices on, and develo p common tools for, raising awareness
of the Charter. It has also note d that the Fundament al Rights Agenc y could help train
national civil se rvants, and sp ecif‌ically reque sted the agency to d raft a handboo k on
the Charter’s domestic application for practitioners and non-specialists.
This handbook a ims to foster better und erstanding of th e Charter, including w hen it
applies in law and policymaking. Carrying out a detailed check on the Charter’s applica-
bility will al ways pay off. Even when the conclusion is tha t it does not apply, performing
a “Charter check ” emphasises the relevance of human ri ghts in the context of law and
policymaki ng. That is in itself an achievement a s it helps strengthen awareness.
A preliminary d raft text was pre pared by Dr. Mirjam de Mol, Ma astricht Centre for
European Law, guided by the a gency and afte r consulting with a gro up of experts
working in nation al parliaments. This wa s revised by FRA, which also consu lted FRA’s
28 National Liaiso n Off‌icers – a netwo rk of experts wo rking in nationa l administra-
tions. The hand book was f‌inalise d after considerin g comments from our S cientif‌ic
Committee. I would like to thank everyone who contributed for their valuable input.
Michael O’Flaherty

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