Update: 19.08.2011

The European Union and human rights

After World War Two, the European states were in search of closer co-operation. The European Council was founded in 1949 to ensure peaceful co-existence, human rights and democracy and constitutionalism. The European Community initially aimed at harmonising economic integration. 

The protection of basic and human rights was not an issue in the founding documents. However, they did include clauses constituting the fundamental freedoms as a prerequisite for economic mobility and freedom. 

The Court of Justice of the European Union started off sharing this emphasis. However, referring to the growing legal constraints for European citizens, the court derived basic freedoms from these fundamental freedoms in the late 1960s. It oriented itself by the European Human Rights Convention and the constitutional histories of member states. 

Embedding basic rights in the EU

Ever since the Treaty of Maastricht on European Union (1992), basic European rights are contractually recorded (Article 6 para. 2 EUT). The treaties contain only individual basic rights but they have been recognized as general principles of EU law. As such, they are bestowed on all natural and legal persons that are affected by European Community law. Recipients of this community law are all organs of the European Union.

    Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union 

    In developing the EU charter of fundamental rights in 2000, the EU made an important step toward a written EU basic rights catalogue. With the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon the charter shall become legally binding for all EU countries (excepting Great Britain and Poland).

    Human Rights Foreign Politics

    The European Union has become an important player in bi- and multi-lateral as well as in international human rights politics. Through different instruments, such as guidelines, human rights dialogues and human rights clauses, it aims at systematically integrating a human rights perspective into its politics. Naturally, the EU still exhibits a significant amount of incoherence in this. 

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