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What is the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union?

The Charter

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (the Charter) brings together the fundamental rights of everyone living in the European Union (EU). It was introduced to bring consistency and clarity to the rights established at different times and in different ways in individual EU Member States.

The Charter sets out the full range of civil, political, economic and social rights based on:

  • the fundamental rights and freedoms recognised by the European Convention on Human Rights
  • the constitutional traditions of the EU Member States, for example, longstanding protections of rights which exist in the common law and constitutional law of the UK and other EU Member States
  • the Council of Europe's Social Charter
  • the Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, and
  • other international conventions to which the EU or its Member States are parties.

The Charter became legally binding on EU Member States when the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force in December 2009.

How is the Charter different from the European Convention on Human Rights?

The Charter is sometimes confused with the European Convention on Human Rights. Although containing overlapping human rights provisions, the two operate within separate legal frameworks:

  • The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union was drafted by the EU and is interpreted by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
  • The European Convention on Human Rights, on the other hand, was drafted by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and is interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Charter can be seen as the overarching framework for human rights in the EU, of which the European Convention on Human Rights forms only one part, albeit an important one.

Unlike the European Convention, which has been incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act, the Charter of Fundamental Rights only applies to matters concerning EU Law but it can be raised in courts in the United Kingdom on such matters.

What does the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights do?

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) provides independent advice to EU institutions and Member States on the rights set out in the Charter. FRA also engages in legal and social science research to identify areas in the EU where further work needs to be done to meet international standards. 

Last updated: 03 Oct 2016