1 The Jean Monnet Program Professor J. H. H. Weiler



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The Jean Monnet Program

Professor J.H.H.Weiler


European Union Jean Monnet Chair

Jean Monnet Working Paper 07/04


Olivier de Schutter

The Implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights through the Open Method of Coordination

NYU School of Law  New York, NY 10012

All rights reserved.

No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form

without permission of the author.

ISSN 1087-2221

© Olivier de Schutter 2004

New York University School of Law

New York, NY 10012

USA

The Implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights through the Open Method of Coordination

by Olivier DE SCHUTTER*


Abstract



In the European Union, where the institutions of the Union only may exercise the powers which are attributed to them by the Member States, the implementation of fundamental rights essentially takes place at state level. This essay analyses the limits of such a decentralized implementation of the fundamental rights identified in the Charter of Fundamental Rights as valueswhich the Member States have in common, and it presents the open method of coordination as a way to move beyond these limits without implying further transferrals of powers from the Member States to the Union. A first part of the essay recalls the currentunderstanding of the relationship between the protection of fundamental rights within the Union and the question of competences (I.). Second, the essay proposes an alternative view of that relationship, based on the intuition that an undertaking by the Union to respect fundamental rights may imply, in specific cases, a positive obligation to act for the fulfilment of fundamental rights (II.). Third, it identifies the different functions of an open method of coordination in the implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (III.). In fields where the competences are shared between the Member States and the Union, the open method of coordination may be seen as a searching mechanism to identify where an initiative of the Union may be required, becauseof the externalities, both positive and negative, which the actions of each Member State produces on all the other States, with which they share a common area of freedom, security and justice– an area in which, in particular, the free movement of persons and the free provision of services are guaranteed and in which competition is to be free and undistorted. Moreover, the open method of coordination could be an adequate means of better reconciling the requirements of market (economic) freedoms constitutive of the internal market with fundamental rights, especially social rights, which the Member States are bound to protect and implement under their jurisdiction. Lastly, the open method of coordination could be seen as an encouragement to mutual learning, as the solutions preferred in certain Member States may inspire the adoption of similar solutions in other Member States, especially where such replication avoids the risk that the implementation of fundamental rights at the level of each State recreate obstacles within the internal market or impede the cooperation between the Member States in the area of freedom, security and justice.

Introduction

The relationship between the open method of coordination and the protection of fundamental rights may at first be characterized by the potential tension between two directions in which the institutional developments within the Union have been channelled.1 One set of developments could be characterized by the search for a ‘high form of constitutionalism’ leading to ‘the shaping of an effective and visible EU government’. Another, contrasting, set of developments, could be characterized rather by the putting in place of ‘a dense and complex system of governance alongside the formal structures of government’, bestexemplified by the open method of coordination in the fields of employment, social policies, and the reform of the pensions system. Under the first, constitutional, mode of government, fundamental rights function as a limit to the exercise of the powers of the EU institutions and the Member States acting as decentralized European administration. This corresponds to the function they have fulfilled up to now in the system of the Union, and which the adoption of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in 2000 sought simply to confirm. Considered from the point of view of the second mode of governance, fundamental rights appear not only as limits imposed from the outside to the exercise of the powers which exist within this multilevel form of governance, but they could also fulfil a positive role:2 indeed, they could serve to orient the use of these tools the Member States and the institutions now have at their disposal – benchmarking, exchanges of information and the identification of good practices, evaluation of experiences and the promotion of innovative practices –, and perhaps justify expanding the recourse to these new modes of governance to the implementation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in general. This essay seeks to identify the usefulness of the open method of coordination for the implementation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It proposes a way in which this may be conceived in practice, and therefore it examines the conditions under which such an extension of the open method of coordination may be successful. It relates this new and expanded role for the open method of coordination to the question of the division of powers between the Union and the member states, and to the notion of regulatory competition between the states.


The essay is divided in four parts. First, it recalls the current understanding of the relationship between the protection of fundamental rights within the Union and the question of competences (I.). Second, it proposes an alternative view of that relationship, based on the intuition that an undertaking by the Union to respect fundamental rights may imply, in specific cases, a positive obligation to act for the fulfilment of fundamental rights (II.). Third, it identifies the different functions of an open method of coordination in the implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (III.). In fields where the competences are shared between the Member States and the Union, the open method of coordination may be seen as a searching mechanism to identify where an initiative of the Union may be required, because of the externalities, both positive and negative, which the actions of each Member State produces on all the other States, with which they share a common area of freedom, security and justice – an area in which, in particular, the free movement of persons and the free provision of services are guaranteed and in which competition is to be free and undistorted. Moreover, the open method of coordination could be an adequate means of better reconciling the requirementsof market (economic) freedoms constitutive of the internal market with fundamental rights, especially social rights, which the Member States are bound to protect and implement under their jurisdiction. Lastly, the open method of coordination could be seenas an encouragement to mutual learning, as the solutions preferred in certain Member States may inspire the adoption of similar solutions in other Member States, especially where such replication avoids the risk that the implementation of fundamental rights at the level of each State recreate obstacles within the internal market or impede the cooperation between the Member States in the area of freedom, security and justice.
In substance, this essay analyses the limits of a decentralized implementation of the fundamental rights identified in the Charter of Fundamental Rights as values which the Member States have in common, and it presents the open method of coordination as a way to move beyond these limits without implying further transferrals of powers from the Member States to the Union.

I. Fundamental Rights and the Question of Competences




I.1. The classical view

The defensive function fundamental rights have fulfilled in the system of the Union is well documented. Fundamental rights were imported and developed in the legal order of the Union to respond to the fear that the transferral of powers from the Member States to the European Union would result in diminishing the level of protection enjoyed by the individual under the national legal systems. This explains both the initial development of fundamental rights as general principles of EC law by the European Court of Justice, and the interpretation by the Court of the secondary legislation which seeks to offer a minimal level of protection of fundamental rights at the level of the Union or vis-à-vis the institutions of the Union.3


Fundamental rights have thus been imposed as checks on the exercise by the EU institutions of their powers, and per extension, on the acts adopted by the Member States when they implement Union law, acting as a decentralized administration for the Union.4 Rather than rehearsing here the well-know stages which this importation has followed, it will be useful to insist on the consequences which follow from this defensive – or negative – function the recognition of fundamental rights in the EU legal order has served to fulfil. Three consequences in particular may be identified here: first, fundamental rights are conceived of as external limits to the exercise of powers under EU law, rather than as objectives which the EU should seek to promote; second, the need to ensure an effective protection of fundamental rights has not served to allocate competences between the EU and the Member States: instead, such an allocation of competences has been considered to be neutral vis-à-vis fundamental rights, in the sense that the existing allocation of competences has not been seen as having a potential impact on the level of protection of fundamental rights in the Union; third, although the Member States are recognized the possibility to fully respect fundamental rights under their jurisdiction, whichever kinds of accommodations this requires from the Union – again, this can be seen as a symptom and a consequence of this defensive attitude towards human rights –, States are neither encouraged, nor do they have incentives to, develop human rights beyond the minimal obligation to respect them. These three characteristics of the status of fundamental rights in the Union all have a common matrix: they betray a conception of human rights which sees in them a shield the individual may oppose to the exercise of public power, rather than as a sword which the individual may use to impose on public authorities an obligation to act in order to protect and fulfil them.

a) Fundamental rights as outside limits

Fundamental rights are conceived of in the structure of the Union as limits, and not as a mandate to fulfil. They draw lines which cannot be crossed; they do not indicate the direction in which to move forward. This characteristic has been most clearly expressed by the European Court of Justice in the Opinion 2/94 it delivered on the question of the accession of the European Community to the European Convention on Human Rights, where it stated that the Community institutions do not have at their disposal a ‘general power to enact rules on human rights or to conclude international conventions in this field’, although it did not question that respect for human rights constituted a ‘condition of lawfulness of Community acts’.5 The significance of these statements have been much debated in doctrine.6 In particular, Ph. Alston and J.H.H. Weiler have underlined that the Court in that Opinion at no point suggested that ‘the protection of human rights was not an objective of the Community, nor did it say that the Community lacked competence to legislate in the field of human rights’.7 The Convention responsible for the drafting of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, however, seems to have adopted the opposite view, by considering that fundamental rights in general do not constitute an objective of the Union, although some of the values listed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights have been raised to the level of objectives of the Union.8 This latter view, indeed, seems to represent the dominant opinion. Human rights are constraints which the institutions of the Union have to take into account in all their activities. In principle, they are not objectives to be fulfilled by the institutions in the exercise of their powers. In that sense, fundamental rights remain external limits imposed on the Union; they are not part of its mandate.




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