Report on Fundamental Rights

The Commission has presented a Report on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights with the purpose is to better inform citizens on the application of the Charter and to highlight major developments in 2011.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights entered into force, together with the Lisbon Treaty, in December 2009. The Report follows Commission commitment to prepare annual reports on the application of the Chart. It focuses at actions taken by EU institutions to promote the implementation of the Charter and most important developments in 2011.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights recognises a range of personal, civil, political, economic and social rights of EU citizens and residents, enshrining them into EU law. The Charter is addressed to the EU institutions, bodies established under EU law. It only applies to Member States when implementing EU laws.

The Report focuses on the proposals, measures and court cases as regards the promotion and application of Fundamental Rights taking place during 2011. In addition, it includes the most important developments with regard to:
• enforcing freedom of movement of citizens
• promoting the rights of the child
• reinforcing victim rights and procedural rights
• the fight against xenophobic and racist hate speech
• contributing to EU competitiveness• EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights

Promoting the implementation of the Charter

European Commission

A Guidance document was published by the Commission with the objective of clarifying how fundamental rights aspects should be taken into account by Commission services. An impact assessment on fundamental rights is carried out when preparing legislative proposals. 

The Report provides some examples of impact assessments as regards the approach taken by the Commission when drawing up legislation on the use of security scanners: Member States and airports must comply with minimum conditions set out by the new rules. Passengers will be entitled to opt out from the security scanner procedure. Security scanners should not store or reproduce images. Also, the Commission took into account the impact in the protection of personal data when evaluating the implementation of EU rules on Data Retention. That evaluation concluded that further harmonisation is necessary with regard to retention periods, the purpose limitations and safeguards to access retained data.

The Commission has also the duty to guarantee that the Charter is respected when Member States implement EU law. In 2011 the Commission intervened on the Hungarian media law, causing Hungarian government to agree to amend it to comply with EU law. The Commission also expressed its concerns regarding potential violations of EU law by certain provisions of the draft legislation.

European Parliament

The European Parliament showed big interest in the Hungary media law in respect of media freedom and pluralism. On February 2012 it adopted a resolution calling on the Hungarian government to comply with the recommendations, objections and demands of the European Commission.

Council

The Council recognised its key role in ensuring the effective implementation of the Charter and committed to assess the impact on fundamental rights of its amendments and proposals.

Court of Justice of the European Union

The Court of Justice has rendered interesting judgements as regards: 
1. the impact of the right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial in expulsion proceedings against EU citizens;
2. a derogation of EU rules on gender equality enabling insurers to differentiate between men and women in premiums and benefits;
3. a ruling on the implementation of EU asylum rules highlighting that Member States are required to respect the Charter when examining an asylum application, particularly when transferring an asylum seeker to another Member State with systematic deficiencies in asylum procedures. 

Promoting equality between women and men

The Council adopted a European Pact for gender equality reaffirming the commitment to closing gender gaps. The Commission called on all EU publicly traded companies to reach the target of 30% female board members by 2015; it also recommended Member States to remove financial disincentives in taxation systems where it is more advantageous for couples with very different earnings or single income couples because they might not be efficient from an economic point of view. These taxation systems may lead to an underutilisation of human capital, in particular women.

Helping citizens exercise to their rights

The results of a recent Eurobarometer survey revealed that informing citizens to exercise their rights requires further effort. The survey showed that there is great confusion among citizens about whether the Charter applies to all actions of Member States (the Charter only applies to Member States when they implement EU law).
In October 2011 the Commission meet European and National human rights institutions to focus on how to handle complaints. This meeting launched a multilevel dialogue that will continue to examine how to encourage bodies to create an admissibility check list enabling citizens to determine whether their case is likely to be dealt with.

Most important developments in 2011

Enforcing freedom of movement of citizens

The Commission expressed its concerns with regards to the plans on labour migration announced by the Dutch government. In May 2011 the Danish government planned to strengthen intra-EU border control measures. After the dialogue between the Commission and the Danish authorities, the Danish government announced that it would not go ahead with that plan.

Promoting the rights of the child

The Commission presented the EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child in 2011. The Agenda aims to put in practice the rights of the child included in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The priority of the Commission is to ensure that the justice systems are better adapted to children and more child-friendly. The EU also adopted new rules on combating sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography.

Reinforcing victim rights and procedural rights

During 2011 the Commission made several proposal regarding victim and procedural rights. The Commission proposed new rules on: (1) the support and protection of victims of crime, paying attention to victims with special needs like children; (2) the recognition of victims of violence protection measures; and (3) the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings and on the right to communicate upon arrest. Also, the Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings entered into force providing for a comprehensive range of rights for victims in criminal proceedings.

Fight against xenophobic and racist hate speech

The Commission is willing to ensure the compliance of national laws with EU rules prohibiting racist and xenophobic and racist hate speech. The Report highlights that, by 2011, 22 Member States had communicated to the Commission that their national laws intend to penalise racist and xenophobic hate speech. Belgium, Estonia, Greece, Spain and Poland did not notify implementing measures yet. The Commission will verify in 2012 the compliance of national laws with EU law.

In April 2011 the Commission presented a communication on the “EU framework for national Roma integration strategies up to 2020”. This framework called upon Member States to prepare or revise their national Roma integration programmes and present them to the Commission by December 2011.

The EU gave financial support to civil actions and national policies combating discrimination, promoting equality and improving redress as regards racist speech and crime. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights has an important role in collecting data regarding racism and discrimination in the Member States.

Contributing to EU competitiveness

The Commission paid attention to the freedom to conduct business (article 16 of the Charter) when preparing new rules on common European sales. The European Court of Justice highlighted the importance of the freedom to conduct a business in the Scarlet and SABAM judgements. The Court declared that obliging internet service providers to install systems to prevent infringements of intellectual property rights would infringe the freedom of the provider of conduct its business.

The Commission announced that an impact assessment on fundamental rights (such as right to private life, protection of personal data, freedom of expression and information) would take place in a possible review of the rules on the enforcement of intellectual property rights in the light of piracy over the internet.

EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights

Under the Lisbon Treaty, the EU must access to the European Convention on Human Rights. In 2011 the Commission negotiated on accession with the Council of Europe and now a draft accession agreement is currently under scrutiny.