Human Rights Concept in the Scope of the European Union

       Individuals are born with certain rights. While enjoying their rights and freedoms, they need to respect others and they have to protect others’ rights and freedoms as they do for themselves in order to maintain a peaceful and fair atmosphere all over the world. Despite this basic and inarguable awareness, not all of the people treat or are treated in a just and protective way in terms of “human rights”. Te reasons might be selfishness, or greed or others but the outcome is one and only; injustice. Before analyzing the human rights concept in the European Union, it must be first reminded that reading or writing papers do not work by itself without actions. So, here, the first aim of this paper is to remind all of its readers that awareness of the human rights is the first step to protect , respect and develop them and also to maintain the unity of a society. In academic sense, te aim of this work is to give as much as it could on the subject of human rights in the European Union. It tries to analyze the dimension of this subject by using some certain sources to give information and some certain works to comprehend and analyze this information. The purpose here is also to create a good starter for the ones who would like to study on this topic.
            The EU consists of 27 Member States now and it is an economic, political abd social system wich is not completed yet but continues to develop. As a result of the EU system, the concept of human rights and freedoms are held in an understanding of “Community” system which aims at promoting the unification within the EU territory. It creates and uses its own fundamental charters while it is using international law when it is needed. However, it must be remembered that the EU system is a developing system and it was not like the EU today as it was first founded. The foundations of the European Union today were first set with the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952. The first aim of founding a European community was economical and this is the reason why it succeeded. After economic integration stages, The European Community stepped forward to become a political and social community and they had to apply certain developments for this political and social integrity. There was the urgent necessity to apply certain rules and applications to protect basic human rights. In the first years of this integration, first mention of the fundamental rights was in the Single European Act (1986). Later on, with the Maastricht Treaty (1993), there out a step forward since it “introduced elements of a political union (citizenship, common foreign and internal affairs policy).”[1] In this Treaty, it is stated tat
“The matters referred to in Article K.1 [which is related with the objectives of the union and to which areas the Member States should regard] shall be dealt with in compliance with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 4 November 1950 and the Convention relating to the Status of Refuges of 28 July 1951 and having regard to the protection afforded by Member States to persons persecuted on political grounds.”[2]
Here it is clear that at that time when this treaty was signed, the EU did not have its own human rights declaration or agreement. Further on, the implementation of protection of the human rights maintained substantially with the judicial opinion of the European Parliament and the European Commission supported this progress through numerous ways. Later, when the Council met at Nice on 8 December 2008, with the joint proclamation by the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission, the Charter of Fundamental Rights was declared. On 13 December 2007, its final shape was given with the Treaty of Lisbon[3]. European Union now uses Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union as a legal basis which also includes the Council of Europe Social Charter and te Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights of Workers.
            From all this progress, it is clearly seen how the EU gives importance to the international human rights agreements. However, there are more to see. It is evident how the EU place importance on the “Community” concept when it deals with fundamental rights. It is a natural result of the aim to become a political and social community after economic integration stages. One of the reasons wy the EU takes human rights seriously is that if the fundamental human rights are protected, it certainly gives pace to the ‘evolution of a European identity’. The EU has to take some measures to protect its legal order and its relation with Member States, since in these 27 countries there is already an inalienable understanding of human rights. When the EU does not protect human rights in its legal system and treaties, any Member States cannot fulfil their full responsibility to the European Court of Justice.[4]
            Apart from promoting and defending the human rights in their community sense with its borders, the EU also takes international and tis own human rights declarations and charters into account in its relationships with non-EU countries[5]. The international framework of the EU human rights concept is composed of different declarations like ‘1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ and ‘European Convention on Human Rights’. Today, the EU uses its Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which defends the human rights to protect the democratic environment and the rule of law within the Union. It is composed of seven titles; dignity, freedoms, equality, solidarity, citizens’ rights, justice and general provisions of the charter. At the beginning of the Charter it is stated that “The peoples of Europe, in creating an ever closer union among them, are resolved to share a peaceful future based on common values”[6]. ‘Common value’ is the first step to create a social and political union.
            However, it is not easy to implement a legal system to protect these common values and basic human rights in a Union composed of different countries, nations and cultures. Since there are 27 member states and since they all have their own legal systems, there şs the possibility of clash between the EU law and member states’ own legal systems. Here, the EU law shall prevail and it is called as the supremacy of the EU law[7]. Member states are obliged to implement the EU law including its detailed regulations and principles under the supervision of the legal organs of the EU. For the relation between the ECJ and Member State courts in terms of the protection of basic human rights, Siofra O’Leary states that “it remains to be seen whether Member State courts will continue to obediently accept this principle of supremacy now that the variables of the ‘socio-legal contract’ which is the basis for the transfer of national sovereignty are changing and now that ‘te field of Community law’… is less certain and, as regards the Member States, far more intrusive”[8] When an EU law provision includes a statement regarding the human rights, the member states shall respect and protect this provision. However, in some cases it turns out to be ‘intrusive’ as O’Leary stated. To exemplify, the ERT case in Greece is about the rule in the country which states that any private broadcasting organ is bound to State’s services. In Greece national legal system, it is prohibited to broadcast rather than Greece state broadcasting organs. The private broadcasting company which did not apply with that rule was investigated. The company declared that it was against the EU law and ECJ decided that the case should be solved under the light of the 10. Article “freedom of expression” of the European Convention on Human Rights[9]. So the ECJ used its authorization not only on the EU organs but also on the member states’ legislation. The EU also gives importance to ECHR while applying its own Charter. Besides, ERT case decision shows that if the ECJ finds any implementation against human rights in a member state, even if there is no violation of an existing EU law provision, it might interfere with and accepts this implementation against the EU law. It is also evident here that technological developments make the EU has to take some measures since some developments such as “satellite television poses the question of freedom of information and expression.”[10] So, the interference of the ECJ might be helpful for te citizens of a member state but it is still ‘intrusive’ with the member state legal system sometimes.
            The basic fracture of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union resembles mainly with the ECHR. However, it is certainly emphasized that the EU is a “Community” and it has to apply this charter within this “Community”. Article 16, for example, “freedom to conduct a business” states that “The freedom to conduct a business in accordance with Union law and national laws and practices is recognized.” It is emphasized here that not only the EU law but also the national legal systems should be taken into account. It is because that if the legal authorities of a union do not recognize and respect to their members’ national systems, it would turn into an oppressive union and the concept of “Community” cannot be realized. Article 21, paragraph 2 of the Charter it is expressed that “Within in the scope of application of the Treaties and without prejudice to any of their specific provisions, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.” Apart from what is stated in the first paragraph of this article related with discrimination, the EU has to specify the ‘nationality’ since it is composed of different nations. However, the EU  does not only regard human rights in its own unity and community but it takes it into consideration in the international relations. Human rights are one of the objectives of foreign policy of the EU, mainly seeing it as a ‘security strategy’[11].
            Human rights are holy and vital, as many declaration state. The EU sees human rights as undeniable and universal and it is founded on the understanding of these rights, democracy and the rule of law. It approaches to human rights concept in a “Community” sense to keep and develop the European Union identity, not only in economic but also in the social and political fields. Thrpugh this paper, it is aimed to state the importance of these rights in the EU snd to depit the steps taken by this community in terms of human rights both within the Union and with its relations in the international field.

see also for other founding treaties of the European Union.
[3] Baykal, Sanem. “Temel Haklar”. Özçelik, Gülüm Bayraktaroğlu; Akçay, Belgin. (eds.) Lizbon Antlaşması Sonrası Avrupa Birliği; Serbest Dolaşım Ve Politikalar. Ankara: Seçkin Publication, 2010. (Translation into this paper was made by Kınacı, Şebnem).
[4] Neuwahl, Nanette A. “The Treaty on European Union: A Step Forward in the Protection of Human Rights?”. The European Union and Human Rights. Neuwahl, Nanette A; Rosas Allan (eds.) Te Netherlands: Kluwer Law International, 1995.
[5] See Guidelines Human Rights and International Humanatarian Law, March 2009
[6] Preamble, Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
[7] See Craig, Paul P. & De Burca, Grainne. EU Law: text,cases, and materials. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, c2008.
[8] O’Leary, Siofra. “ Aspects of the Relationshşp Between Community Law and National Law”. Nanette A. Neuwahl& Allan Rosas (eds.) The European Union and Human Rights. Netherlands: Kluwer,1995.
[9] C-260/89 ERT
[10] Neuwahl, Nanette. 1995.
[11] Smith, Karen E. European Union Foreign Policy in a Changing World. Polity: Cambridge, 2003.

Şebnem Kınacı (ELIT Graduate, 2011-2012)

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