Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 August 2021
Human dignity in the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union – Human dignity in EU migration law, particularly in the area of asylum law and irregular migration – Requirement of dignified treatment of third-country nationals in the EU – Relationship between human dignity and substantive values such as tolerance, identity, rights, justice, and the law – Human dignity as a moral right, a legal status, and a political status – Human dignity as a moral principle with a legal pedigree, which underpins determinations of the scope of rights of third-country nationals in EU migration law
An earlier version of this text was presented at the 3rd UNESCO Chair conference ‘Migration and the Rule of Law’, held in Zagreb on 17 January 2020.
1 C. Dupré, The Age of Dignity: Human Rights and Constitutionalism in Europe (Hart Publishing 2015).
2 C. McCrudden, ‘Human Dignity and Judicial Interpretation of Human Rights’, 19 European Journal of International Law (2008) p. 655.
3 D. Schulztiner and G.E. Carmi, ‘Human Dignity in National Constitutions: Functions, Promise and Dangers’, 62 American Journal of Comparative Law (2014) p. 461.
4 D. Grimm et al., ‘Human Dignity in Context. An Introduction’, in D. Grimm et al. (eds.), Human Dignity in Context: Explorations of a Contested Concept (Nomos 2018) p. 13 at p. 21.
5 P.-A. Rodriguez, ‘Human Dignity as an Essentially Contested Concept’, 28 Cambridge Review of International Affairs (2015) p. 743.
6 C. Ruiz Miguel, ‘Human Dignity: History of an Idea’, 50 Jarhbuch des öffentlichen Rechts der Gegenwart (2002) p. 281.
7 D. Petrić, ‘“Different Faces of Dignity”: A Functionalist Account of the Institutional Use of the Concept of Dignity in the European Union’, 26 Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law (2019) p. 792.
8 Consider, illustratively, landmark dignity judgments ECJ 9 October 2001, Case C-377/98, Netherlands v Parliament and Council, ECLI:EU:C:2001:523; ECJ 14 October 2004, Case C-36/02, Omega, ECLI:EU:C:2004:614; ECJ 18 October 2011, Case C-34/10, Brüstle, ECLI:EU:C:2011:669.
9 We consider legislation adopted and judgments delivered until June 2020, and focus particularly on EU asylum and irregular migration law.
10 J.H.H. Weiler, ‘Federalism and Constitutionalism: Europe’s Sonderweg’, in K. Nicolaïdis and R. Howse (eds.), The Federal Vision: Legitimacy and Levels of Governance in the United States and the European Union (Oxford University Press 2001) p. 54 at p. 65-66.
11 Case C-36/02, Omega, supra n. 8, para. 34.
12 M. Avbelj, ‘Human Dignity and EU Legal Pluralism’, in G. Davies and M. Avbelj, Research Handbook on Legal Pluralism and EU Law (Edward Elgar 2018) p. 95.
13 On the ‘mirroring’-like content of Art. 1 of the Charter and Art. 1 of the German Grundgesetz, and the influence of the German constitutional doctrine on the understanding of the concept of human dignity in EU law, see J. Jones, ‘“Common Constitutional Traditions”: Can the Meaning of Human Dignity Under German Law Guide the European Court of Justice?’, Public Law (2004) p. 167.
14 Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, An Area of Freedom, Security and Justice Serving the Citizen, COM (2009) 262 final, Brussels, 10 June 2009, p. 7.
15 See, for example, Recital 19 of the Preamble to Regulation (EU) No 656/2014 establishing rules for the surveillance of the external sea borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (Frontex Regulation); Recital 49 of the Preamble to Regulation (EU) 2016/1624 on the European Border and Coast Guard (European Border and Coast Guard Regulation); Recital 60 of the Preamble to Directive 2013/32/EU on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection (Asylum Procedures Directive); Recital 35 of the Preamble to Directive 2013/33/EU laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (Reception Conditions Directive); Recital 16 of the Preamble to Directive 2011/95/EU on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted (Qualification Directive); Recital 24 of the Preamble to Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person (Dublin III Regulation); Recital 2 of the Preamble to Directive 2008/115/EC on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals (Return Directive).
16 Recital 7 of the Preamble and Art. 7(1) of Regulation (EU) 2016/399 on a Union Code on the rules governing the movement of persons across borders (Schengen Borders Code).
17 Recital 10 of the Preamble and Art. 4(6) of Regulation (EU) No. 656/2014; Arts. 21 and 35 of Regulation (EU) 2016/1624.
18 Recital 11 of the Preamble to Directive 2013/33/EU.
19 Recital 18 of the Preamble to Directive 2013/33/EU.
20 Recital 25 of the Preamble and Art. 20(5) of Directive 2013/33/EU.
21 Art. 13(d) of Directive 2013/32/EU.
22 Art. 25(5) of Directive 2013/32/EU.
23 Recital 2 of Directive 2008/115/EC.
24 Recital 17 of the Preamble to Directive 2008/115/EC.
25 Recital 17 of the Preamble and Art. 16(1) of Directive 2008/115/EC.
26 Art. 8(4) of Directive 2008/115/EC.
27 Rodriguez, supra n. 5, p. 743.
28 Cf ECJ 18 March 2004, Opinion of Advocate General Stix-Hackl in Case C-36/02, Omega, ECLI:EU:C:2004:162, para. 85.
29 P. Carozza, ‘Human Dignity in Constitutional Adjudication’, in T. Ginsburg and R. Dixon (eds.), Research Handbook in Comparative Constitutional Law (Edward Elgar 2011) p. 459 at p. 465.
30 On the gradual expansion of the Court’s jurisdiction in the AFSJ, see K. Lenaerts, ‘The Contribution of the European Court of Justice to the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice’, 59 International & Comparative Law Quarterly (2010) p. 255. For an explanation of the Court’s initial self-restraint in cases involving the rights of non-EU nationals, see J.H.H. Weiler, ‘Thou Shalt Not Oppress a Stranger: On the Judicial Protection of the Human Rights of Non-EC Nationals – A Critique’, 3 European Journal of International Law (1992) p. 65 at p. 70.
31 For this doctrinal approach – taking dignity ‘in conjunction’ with other fundamental rights – (comparatively) typical in constitutional adjudication, see Jones, supra n. 13, p. 168-174; D. Petrić, ‘Dignity, Exceptionality, Trust. EU, Me, Us’, 26 European Public Law (2020) p. 451 at p. 457-459.
32 As an example, see Supreme Court of Slovenia, Decision I Up 10/2018 of 4 April 2018, and Supreme Administrative Court of Finland, Decision 3891/4/17 of 13 April 2018, both reported in European Commission, supra n. 14, p. 16, p. 38, and p. 59; and European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Rights Report 2019 (EU Publications Office) p. 48-49.
33 Avbelj, supra n. 12, p. 96; ECJ 27 September 2012, Case C-179/11, Cimade and GISTI, ECLI:EU:C:2012:594.
34 ECJ 18 December 2014, Case C-562/13, Abdida, ECLI:EU:C:2014:2453.
35 ECJ 28 April 2011, Case C-61/11 PPU, El Dridi, ECLI:EU:C:2011:268. In El Dridi, the Court directly invoked the argument of ensuring the effectiveness of EU law on returns procedures. The Court’s reasoning was, however, indirectly underpinned by the need to ensure respect for human dignity in conducting those procedures. See para. 31: ‘It must be borne in mind in that regard that recital 2 in the preamble to Directive 2008/115 states that it pursues the establishment of an effective removal and repatriation policy, based on common standards, for persons to be returned in a humane manner and with full respect for their fundamental rights and also their dignity’ (emphasis added). Since protection of human dignity is one of the goals of return procedures, we consider that the Court’s reliance on the argument related to the effectiveness of those procedures implies respect for the human dignity of individuals subject to those procedures. In our view, an ‘effective removal policy’ can only be an ‘effective dignity-conforming removal policy’.
36 ECJ 16 February 2017, Case C-578/16 PPU, C.K. v Slovenia, ECLI:EU:C:2017:127, para. 59.
37 ECJ 2 December 2014, Joined Cases C-148/13 to C-150/13, A and Others, ECLI:EU:C:2014:2406, para. 65; see also ECJ 25 January 2018, Case C-473/16, F., ECLI:EU:C:2018:36 and ECJ 5 October 2017, Opinion of Advocate General Wahl in Case C-473/16, F., ECLI:EU:C:2017:739.
38 ECJ 5 September 2012, Joined Cases C-71/11 and C-99/11, Germany v Y and Z, ECLI:EU:C:2012:518.
39 ECJ 19 April 2012, Opinion of Advocate General Bot in Joined Cases C-71/11 and C-99/11, Germany v Y and Z, ECLI:EU:C:2012:224, para. 100.
40 ECJ 27 February 2014, Case C-79/13, Saciri, ECLI:EU:C:2014:103, paras. 40-51.
41 ECJ 19 March 2019, Case C-163/17, Jawo, ECLI:EU:C:2019:218, para. 92; ECJ 19 March 2019, Joined Cases C-297/17, C-318/17, C-319/17 and C-438/17, Ibrahim and Others, ECLI:EU:C:2019:219, paras. 90-91. Cf ECtHR 21 January 2011, No. 30696/09, M.S S. v Belgium and Greece, paras. 252-263.
42 ECJ 12 November 2019, Case C-233/18, Zubair Haqbin, ECLI:EU:C:2019:956.
43 S. Progin-Theuerkauf and M. Helena Zoeteweij, ‘Case C-233/18 Haqbin: The Human Dignity of Asylum Seekers as a Red Line’, European Law Blog, 9 December 2019, ⟨https://europeanlawblog.eu/2019/12/09/case-c-233-18-haqbin-the-human-dignity-of-asylum-seekers-as-a-red-line/⟩, visited 22 July 2021.
44 ECJ 17 July 2014, Case C-474/13, Pham, ECLI:EU:C:2014:2096 and ECJ 30 April 2014, Opinion of Advocate General Bot in Case C-474/13, Pham, ECLI:EU:C:2014:336; see also ECJ 27 February 2020, Opinion of Advocate General Pikamäe in Case C-18/19, WM, ECLI:EU:C:2020:130.
45 McCrudden, supra n. 2, p. 693-701, p. 721-722; Petrić, supra n. 7, p. 806-808.
46 Similarly, C. Dupré, ‘Human Dignity’, in S. Peers et al. (eds.), The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights: A Commentary (Hart Publishing 2014) p. 3 at p. 5.
47 Cf C. McCrudden, ‘In Pursuit of Human Dignity: An Introduction to Current Debates’, in C. McCrudden (ed.), Understanding Human Dignity (Oxford University Press 2013) p. 1 at p. 50.
48 Dupré, supra n. 46, p. 17-18.
49 P. Becchi, ‘Human Dignity in Europe: Introduction’, in P. Becchi and K. Mathis (eds.), Handbook of Human Dignity in Europe (Springer 2019) p. 1 at p. 2.
51 J. Waldron, ‘Dignity, Rank, and Rights: The 2009 Tanner Lectures at UC Berkeley’, NYU School of Law, Public Law & Legal Theory Research Paper Series, Working Paper No. 09–50 (September 2009) p. 1 at p. 22-23.
52 Becchi, supra n. 49, p. 7-8.
53 See ECJ 14 May 2020, Opinion of Advocate General Bobek in Case C-129/19, Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri v BV, ECLI:EU:C:2020:375, paras. 107-108.
54 Some conceptual problems associated with this reading of human dignity as a ‘second order’ right are presented in P. Sourlas, ‘Human Dignity and the Constitution’, 7 Jurisprudence (2016) p. 30 at p. 41.
55 C. Enders, ‘The Right to Have Rights: The Concept of Human Dignity in German Basic Law’, 2 Revista de Estudos Constitucionais, Hermenêutica e Teoria do Direito (2010) p. 1.
56 Becchi, supra n. 49, p. 5; M. Mahlmann, ‘The Basic Law at 60 – Human Dignity and the Culture of Republicanism’, (11) German Law Journal (2010) p. 9.
57 Note from the Praesidium on Draft Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Text of the explanations relating to the complete text of the Charter as set out in CHARTE 4487/00 CONVENT 50, CHARTE 4473/00 (2000), p. 3.
58 Opinion of Advocate General Stix-Hackl in Case C-36/02, Omega, supra n. 28, paras. 74-81.
59 J. Habermas, ‘The Concept of Human Dignity and the Realistic Utopia of Human Rights’, 41 Metaphilosophy (2010) p. 464.
60 R. Dworkin, ‘Political Judges and the Rule of Law’, in A Matter of Principle (Harvard University Press 1985) p. 9. For Dworkin’s more elaborate view of the concept of human dignity, see R. Dworkin, Justice for Hedgehogs (Harvard University Press 2011) p. 191 ff.
61 J. Waldron, ‘Is the Rule of Law an Essentially Contested Concept (in Florida)?’, 21 Law and Philosophy (2002) p. 137.
62 Dworkin (1985), supra n. 60, p. 32.
63 Although this tendency is particularly evident in the field of asylum and irregular migration, it can also be noticed in other areas of law. See, for instance, landmark judgment ECJ 30 April 1996, Case C-13/94, P. v S., ECLI:EU:C:1996:170, concerning the application of the right not to be discriminated against to transgender persons. For a discussion, see Petrić, supra n. 7, p. 806-808.
64 R. Dworkin, ‘Hard Cases’, 88 Harvard Law Review (1975) p. 1057. For a characterisation of the Court of Justice as ‘the Hercules of a Dworkinian legal world’, see T. Ćapeta, ‘Ideology and Legal Reasoning at the European Court of Justice’, in T. Perišin and S. Rodin (eds.), The Transformation or Reconstitution of Europe (Hart Publishing 2018) p. 89 at p. 96; and N. Bačić Selanec, A Realist Account of EU Citizenship (PhD Thesis, University of Zagreb 2019) p. 64.
65 Dupré, supra n. 46, p. 19-20 (characterising human dignity as standing ‘at the top of the EU normative pyramid’, as ‘the axiomatic foundation of the whole EU’). Similar exposition of Dworkin’s ‘moral reading of the Constitution’, albeit in more general terms, can be found in Sourlas, supra n. 54, p. 34.
66 J. Waldron, ‘The Rule of Law as a Theater of Debate’, in J. Burley (ed.), Dworkin and His Critics (Blackwell 2004) p. 319.
67 J. Waldron, ‘The Rule of Law and the Importance of Procedure’, Working Paper No. 10-73, New York University School of Law Public Law & Legal Theory Research Paper Series (2010) p. 1.
68 R. Dworkin, ‘Law as Interpretation’, 60 Texas Law Review (1982) p. 527; R. Dworkin, Law’s Empire (Harvard University Press 1986).
69 Waldron, supra n. 67, p. 14.
72 For an argument that human dignity is ‘more compatible with the notion of status than with the notion of right’, see Sourlas, supra n. 54, p. 42.
73 Cf Joel Feinberg’s take on the activity of ‘claiming’ one’s rights, in J. Feinberg, ‘The Nature and Value of Rights’, 4 The Journal of Value Inquiry (1970) p. 243 at p. 252 (‘what is called “human dignity” may simply be the recognizable capacity to assert claims [about rights]. To respect a person then, or to think of him as possessed of human dignity, simply is to think of him as a potential maker of claims’).
74 H. Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (Harcourt Brace & Company 1979).
75 Hence, allegedly universal and inalienable human rights ‘proved to be unenforceable even in countries whose constitutions were based upon them – whenever people appeared who were no longer citizens of any sovereign state’. See ibid., p. 293.
78 Z. Kurelić, ‘Telos of the Camp’, 46 Politička misao/Political Thought (2009) p. 141 at p. 147.
79 Arendt, supra n. 74, p. 295-296.
80 For a contemporary discussion of the concept of human dignity as the central motive of Hannah Arendt’s political philosophy, see J. Douglas Macready, ‘Hannah Arendt and the Political Meaning of Human Dignity’, 47 Journal of Social Philosophy (2016) p. 399; J. Douglas Macready, Hannah Arendt and the Fragility of Human Dignity (Lexington Books 2017).
81 Douglas Macready, supra n. 80, p. 414.
84 Weiler, supra n. 30, p. 69.
86 S. Žižek, PBS interview with Tavis Smiley (October 2015).
87 Cf G. Loescher, Beyond Charity. International Cooperation and the Global Refugee Crisis (Oxford University Press 1993).
88 Some moral philosophers work with a much stricter notion of charity, notably the ideal of Christian ‘charity’ as a virtue that is more akin to ‘love’ and has not much to do with the predominant usage of the term in contemporary philosophy. Such a notion of ‘charity’ is mandatory and absolute and thus arguably even stronger than ‘justice’. It goes beyond ‘rights’ in the treatment of the ‘other’ and concern for their wellbeing. See R. Hursthouse, ‘Human Dignity and Charity’, in J. Malpas and N. Lickiss (eds.), Perspectives on Human Dignity: A Conversation (Springer 2007) p. 59.
89 Sourlas, supra n. 54, p. 45.