The Fundamental Rights
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union was elaborated by an earlier Convention (Convention on Fundamental Rights). Proclaimed on 7 December 2000 at the European Council in Nice, it was initially not legally binding.
Now this Charter of Fundamental Rights, which contains both the "classical" civil and political rights as well as social rights and principles, was incorporated in its entirety in Part II of the Constitution, which makes it legally binding.
The rights and principles set out in the Charter in six major chapters (dignity, freedoms, equality, solidarity, citizens’ rights, justice) result from the rights and fundamental freedoms recognised in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (EHRC), the constitutional traditions of the Member States of the European Union, the European Social Charter of the Council of Europe and the Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, as well as from other international agreements to which the European Union or its Member States are signatories.
Basically, the Charter has been incorporated into the Constitution without amendments in the form decided upon by the Convention on Fundamental Rights. However, there are some additions to the "horizontal" final provisions (i.e. provisions that are generally valid) which are to ensure, among other things, that the scope of application of the Charter remains limited to the application and execution of Union law and that the distribution of competences between the Union and the Member States is not affected.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights applies to
- the bodies and institutions of the Union, whereby the principle of subsidiarity has to be adhered to;
- the Member States, when they act within the scope of application of Union law.
The Charter does not result in an extension of the competences and tasks of the Union. The Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Charter will therefore become effective only within the framework of the competences assigned to the Union in other parts of the Constitution.
Insofar as the rights contained in the Charter correspond to the rights guaranteed in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (EHRC), they have the same significance and scope - including the limitations allowed - as those set out in the EHRC. In any case, the protection guaranteed by the Charter must never be less than the protection granted by the European Human Rights Convention.
The provisions of the Charter lay down both subjective "rights" and "principles". Subjective rights must be respected, while principles must be adhered to. Principles may be implemented by legal acts or implementing provisions. However, they do not justify direct claims for the adoption of positive measures by the bodies of the Union or the authorities of the Member States. The "principles" are of significance for the courts when legal acts of the Union have to be interpreted or monitored for their implementation.
The explanations formulated under the supervision of the Presidium of the Convention for drafting the Charter and updated under the auspices of the Presidium of the European Convention serve as a guide for the interpretation of the Charter. These explanations "shall be duly taken into account by the courts of the Union and the Member States." The explanations, which in particular contain references to the origin of the individual provisions of the Charter, their relationship to other constitutional provisions and to the valid decisions of the European Court of Justice, thus become an obligatory instrument when interpreting the Charter.
Part I of the Constitution also contains a provision according to which the Union accedes to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (EHRC). Here, too, it is made clear that the accession to this Convention does not alter the competences of the Union as set out in the Constitution.
The legally binding incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Freedoms as well as the legal basis for an accession to the European Human Rights Convention satisfy Austrian demands put forward repeatedly for many years.