The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (EU Charter) enshrines the fundamental rights protected within the EU. Both ENNHRI and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) rely on this binding instrument for their work, in addition to other human rights instruments, for ensuring fundamental rights are upheld across the EU and its Member States. By building their capacity in this area, ENNHRI strengthens its members’ application of the EU Charter on the ground.

The importance of the EU Charter

Through its 50 articles, the EU Charter brings together the rights and freedoms belonging to everyone across the EU. It encompasses dignity, freedoms, equality, solidarity, citizens’ rights and justice. As the EU Charter is directly applicable in domestic legislation, Member States have a duty to respect and observe the EU Charter when acting within EU law.

Regional recognition of NHRIs’ role in applying the EU Charter

Given the broad human rights mandate given to them by the UN Paris Principles, NHRIs are essential to the implementation of the EU Charter and the fundamental rights it sets out.

This importance is recognised by the European Commission. Its EU Charter Strategy 2020 cites how NHRIs are essential in making the Charter of Fundamental Rights ”a reality for all”. Specifically, it states that NHRIs:

  • “monitor the application, implementation and promotion of the Charter on the ground.”
  • “provide information and support to victims of fundamental rights violations.”
  • “cooperate with the national institutions to improve their use and awareness of the Charter.”

The Strategy also underlines how networks such as ENNHRI coordinate capacity building and the exchange of good practices on effective EU Charter implementation.

Before its release, ENNHRI inputted into the Strategy’s development. It advocated for stronger cooperation among NHRIs as national guardians of the Charter and making the Charter more operational in order to facilitate change at national level.

The Council of the EU has also acknowledged how crucial NHRIs are in this area. In its 2021 Conclusions on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, it asserted that “NHRIs are key for the implementation of the Charter, given their broad and horizontal fundamental rights mandate and their proximity to citizens.” It also recalls that EU institutions have an obligation to comply with the Charter and the role of national, regional and local administrations in ensuring compliance with fundamental rights.

In its 2020 report, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) underlines the clear consensus amongst EU institutions that NHRIs are key agents to ensure a vibrant implementation and application of the EU Charter. The FRA highlights the increasing use of the EU Charter by NHRIs especially in their advisory and awareness raising functions. NHRIs advise policy and law-making at the EU and domestic levels, and also contribute to monitoring the compliance with the EU Charter under the EU fundamental rights conditionality mechanism.

How NHRIs use the EU Charter in their work

As NHRIs possess a broad human rights mandate, they can refer to the EU Charter across their activities. These include monitoring fundamental rights; advising government and parliament; handling complaints; providing legal assistance; reporting; promoting fundamental rights education; training; and raising awareness.

The EU Charter offers a valuable baseline in developing fundamental rights indicators. In this way, it aids NHRIs to analyse and report on the national fundamental rights context. As the EU Charter is directly applicable, NHRIs also use it to advise national authorities on their legislation’s compliance with EU law. This binding nature of the EU Charter is not only crucial when handling complaints, but also when carrying out strategic litigation. The added value of the EU Charter is important when NHRIs prepare human rights trainings for state authorities, such as judges, police, and other law enforcement authorities, as well as civil society. Through their publications, websites, social media and events, NHRIs also raise awareness, promote and clarify the scope and content of the EU Charter for duty bearers and rights holders.

Read more about how NHRIs can use the EU Charter below.

EU Charter of Fundamental Rights publication Download: Implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – NHRI Activities

ENNHRI’s work to strengthen EU Charter implementation

ENNHRI’s work on strengthening the Charter’s application is based on a dedicated Action Plan. Covering 2021-2024, this sets out four actions to support NHRIs’ contributions to applying the EU Charter. These are to:

  • Contribute to the existence of an NHRI in compliance with the Paris Principles in each EU Member State;
  • Support the capacity of NHRIs to apply the Charter in their work to promote and protect fundamental rights at national level;
  • Facilitate NHRI individual and collective contributions to EU actors and processes to strengthen the application of the Charter in the EU;
  • Unlock and support NHRIs’ multiplier potential to strengthen application of the Charter in the EU.

More concretely, each year ENNHRI contributes to the European Commission’s annual report on EU Charter implementation. In 2022, it called for stronger protection mechanisms for human rights defenders and the adoption of a Recommendation to EU Member States clarifying how they can ensure strong and independent NHRIs in their countries. In 2023, ENNHRI’s submission highlighted the need to improve the efficiency of the justice system, to enhance courts’ accessibility and legal aid systems, and to ensure access to justice for vulnerable groups. It also recommended that the Commission recognises the role and strengthens the mandate of NHRIs in relation to access to justice.

In addition, ENNHRI works closely with NHRIs to build their capacity to apply the EU Charter. For instance, it has participated in a regional project funded under the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Regional Cooperation. This project – led by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) – supports NHRIs in monitoring fundamental rights and the fundamental rights aspects of the rule of law. NHRIs from seven EU countries were involved in this project: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia, and Slovakia. By providing them with advice and support and boosting their institutional capacity and knowledge on the EU Charter, the project sought to increase the role of NHRIs in enforcing the Charter at the national level.

Moreover, within this project, FRA has focused on developing the capacity of NHRIs to monitor fundamental rights compliance in the implementation of EU funds, including by developing a dedicated report on this topic with recommendations on how to advance this role. This report followed ENNHRI’s statement on the potential role, opportunities and limits for NHRIs in the context of monitoring fundamental rights compliance of EU funds.

A webinar held in 2021, which ENNHRI co-organised together with FRA and Equinet, looked at the role of the EU Charter in the work of NHRIs and equality bodies. Its modules focused on the EU Charter, equality and non-discrimination, and the rule of law. See key takeaways from the event and all related resources.

See all resources, including the key takeaways, from the seminar on the role of NHRIs in applying the EU Charter.

Furthermore, ENNHRI’s Legal Working Group carries out crucial work in this area. Composed of over 20 European NHRIs, this group of legal experts offers a platform to exchange knowledge on legal challenges and good practices regarding structural fundamental rights and rule of law issues. It also raises awareness on international human rights conventions, such as the EU Charter, and the importance of timely and effective implementation of European courts’ judgments involving fundamental rights.

Contact

For more information about our work on Charter of Fundamental Rights contact:

Paula Nowek
Human Rights Officer

paula.nowek@ennhri.org