The concept of the essence of a fundamental right—set out in Article 52(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (the “Charter”)—operates as a constant reminder that our core values as Europeans are absolute. In other words, they are not up for balancing. As the seminal judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union (the “CJEU”) in Schrems shows, where a measure imposes a limitation on the exercise of a fundamental right that is so intense and so comprehensive that it calls into question that right as such, that measure is incompatible with the Charter, as it deprives the right at issue of its essence. This is so without the need for a balancing exercise of competing interests, because a measure that compromises the very essence of a fundamental right is automatically disproportionate. Therefore, the present contribution supports the contention that in order for the concept of essence to function in a constitutionally meaningful way, both EU and national courts should apply the “respect-for-the-essence test” before undertaking a proportionality assessment.
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