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Respecting the Charter
The EU Commission´s report on the respect of fundamental rights in Europe
“Fundamental rights concerns are increasingly embedded in EU policy-making”. The claim is made in the European Commission’s second annual report on the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union that became legally binding with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009. Indeed, also Brussels cannot refrain from acknowledging the number of individual and social rights violated in the Old Continent. In fact, the report presented on the same day, April 16, underlined remarkable disparities between men and women in Europe.
At the basis of integration. The Charter of Fundamental Rights, drawn up in Nice in the year 2000, came into force after almost a decade. It contains the basic rights of the “common home” (human dignity, right to life, ban on capital punishment and slavery, right to get married and create a family, freedom of thought, of conscience, of religion, right to education, to employment, equality before the law, non-discrimination, defense of minors and of the disabled, social security, health protection, environment…), and it has become “the compass of all policies decided at EU level”, said Viviane Reding, vice-president of the Executive. “We now need to help citizens exercise their rights in practice by working with Member States to ensure people know where they can turn if their rights are infringed”. Commissioner Reding pointed out that the Charter applies within the EU, since “The primary role of the Charter is to guarantee that the EU institutions respect fundamental rights in drawing up European legislation”. The report provides several examples: “In 2011 it helped ensure that EU rules on the use of security scanners at airports respect the fundamental rights to protection of personal data, private life and dignity”, thus citizens are free to refuse security scan and opt for other security checks. Interventions of the EU Court of Justice regarded the Internet, the right to asylum and gender discrimination.
Emphases by Eurobarometer. On the request of the EU Commission Eurobarometer conducted a survey to assess European citizens’ awareness of the Charter. Findings show that 64% of all Europeans “are aware of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights”. However, points out Eurobarometer, “detailed knowledge about when the Charter applies remains limited. 65% of Europeans say they would like to learn more about where to turn if their Charter rights are violated”. The EU statistical office adds: “there is still a frequent misunderstanding amongst EU citizens about its purpose and the situations where the Charter applies or does not apply, as well as the EU’s role”. In fact, “there is a common public impression that the Charter gives the Commission a general right to intervene when it suspects that fundamental rights have been infringed anywhere in the EU. This is not the case. The Charter applies to Member States when they implement EU law”. And “each EU country protects rights through its own national constitution and courts. The Charter does not replace these. In these cases, if someone feels that their rights have been infringed, they still need, in the first instance, to take their case to a national court or seek help from a national ombudsman”.
Disparity of men and women. The annual report on gender equality, released alongside with the report on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, shows that gender inequalities remain a prominent feature across Europe. For example, “the employment rate for women is 62.1%, compared to 75.1% for men”. This means that the EU can only reach the overall Europe 2020 target rate of 75% employment with a strong commitment to gender equality”. The Commission has highlighted the need “to promote a better work-life balance, in particular through adequate childcare, more access to flexible working arrangements, and by making sure tax and benefit systems do not penalise second earners”. The report stresses that despite “slow progress” there still is a wide gender gap in company boardrooms in the EU (women earn 16% less than men), and “major challenges remain”. One of the ways to boost Europe’s competitiveness – the Commission points out – is to obtain better balance between women and men in economic decision-making positions”, as “companies with higher percentages of women on corporate boards perform better than those with all-male boards”.