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Fundamental Rights, General Principles of EU Law, and the Charter

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 October 2017


The purpose of this chapter is to explore selected aspects of the relationship between the general principles of EU law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The chapter first looks at the expansion of fundamental rights in EU law and the importance of general principles by reference to three principles which have provided fruitful grounds for judicial activism: the right to judicial protection, the principle of non-discrimination, and the right to personal data. It then examines the sources of fundamental rights under Article 6 TEU and the relationship between Charter rights and general principles. Finally, it explores a pivotal issue in EU constitutional discourse, namely, the scope of application of the Charter and the general principles of law. The chapter concludes by observing that, far from declining in importance, the general principles of law continue to be an integral part of judicial methodology; that, following the introduction of the Charter, the CJEU applies a heightened level of judicial scrutiny; and that it favours a centralised approach opting for an autonomous interpretation of the Charter, granting it precedence over national constitutional norms, and understanding broadly its scope of application.

Copyright © Centre for European Legal Studies, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge 2014

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1 This chapter is based on the Lasok Lecture 2014, given by the author at the University of Exeter on 6 March 2014.

2 See Case 11/70 Internationale Handelsgesellschaft mbH v Einfuhrund Vorratsstelle für Getreide und Futtermittel [1970] ECR 1125.

3 Case C-60/00 Carpenter v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2002] ECR I-6279. But see for a somewhat narrow understanding of that case: Case C-457/12 S v Minister voor Immigratie, Integratie en Asiel, judgment of 12 March 2014.

4 Case C-71/02 Herbert Karner Industrie-Auktionen GmbH v Troostwijk GmbH [2004] ECR I-3025.

5 Case C-112/00 Eugen Schmidberger, Internationale Transport und Planzüge v Austria [2003] ECR I-5659.

6 Case C-36/02 Omega Spielhallenund Automatenaufstellungs-GmbH v Oberbürgermeisterin der Bundesstadt Bonn [2004] ECR I-9609. See also Case C-244/06 Dynamic Medien Vertriebs GmbH v Avides Media AG [2008] ECR I-505.

7 For examples, of outcome cases, see Carpenter (n 3 above), Schmidberger (n 5 above), Omega (n 6 above), and more recently Case C-544/10 Deutsches Weintor eG v Land Rheinland-Pfalz, judgment of 6 September 2012; Case C-283/11 Sky Österreich GmbH v Österreichischer Rundfunk, judgment of 22 January 2013. In some cases, the ECJ will provide the referring court with a strong presumption leaving it to make the final determination: see eg Case C-131/12 Google Spain SL v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD), judgment of 13 May 2014, nyr, discussed below at n 65. For a detailed discussion of the ‘outcome’ and other approaches followed by the Court, see Tridimas, T, ‘Constitutional Review of Member State action: The virtues and vices of an incomplete jurisdiction’ (2011) 9 International Journal of Constitutional Law 737 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 See Preamble to the Charter, Recitals 4 and 5.

9 This is so, for example, in relation to the interpretation of Art 114 TFEU. See eg Case C-380/03 Germany v European Parliament and Council of the European Union [2006] ECR I-11573 (Second Tobacco Advertisement Directive case); Case C-210/03 R (on the application of Swedish Match AB) v Secretary of State for Health [2004] ECR I-11893; For a recent case where the ECJ took a broad view of agency powers, see Case C-270/12 United Kingdom v European Parliament and Council of the European Union (ESMA case), judgment of 22 January 2014.

10 Case 26/62 NV Algemene Transport- en Expeditie Onderneming van Gend en Loos v Netherlands Inland Revenue Administration [1963] ECR 1.

11 Joined Cases C-402/05 P and C-415/05 P Kadi and Al Barakaat International Foundation v European Council and Commission [2008] ECR I-6351.

12 Kadi I, ibid, paras 287–88.

13 Case 294/83 Parti écologiste ‘Les Verts’ v European Parliament [1986] ECR 1339, para 23; Kadi, n 11 above, para 281.

14 Kadi, n 11 above, para 308.

15 Ibid, paras 345 et seq.

16 Above, n 11.

17 Joined Cases C-584/10 P, C-593/10 P and C-595/10 P Commission and Others v Kadi (Kadi II), judgment of 18 July 2013, nyr.

18 Kadi II, paras 117–18.

19 Kadi II, para 119.

20 See, in particular, Kadi II, paras 113 et seq and 120–21.

21 Kadi II, para 120.

22 Paras 128–29.

23 A, K, M, Q & G v HM Treasury [2008] EWCA Civ 1187, at para 125, and HM Treasury v Mohammed Jabar Ahmed and others [FC] [2010] UKSC 2.

24 Kadi II, n 17 above, para 132.

25 Nada v Switzerland, Application No 10593/08, judgment of 12 September 2012, para 211.

26 See the judgment at the first instance which was reversed by the ECJ: Case T-85/09, Yassin Abdullah Kadi v European Commission (Kadi II) [2010] ECR II-5177.

27 See Kadi v Geithner, US District Court for the District of Columbia, judgment of 19 March 2012.

28 Case C-144/04 Werner Mangold v Rüdiger Helm [2005] ECR I-9981.

29 See Opinion of Mazák AG in Case C-411/05 Palacios de la Villa v Cortefiel Servicios SA [2007] ECR I-8531, para 94 and see the criticism by Herdegen, , ‘General Principles of EU Law—The Methodological Challenge’ in Bernitz, , Nergelius, , and Cardner, (eds), General Principles of EU Law in a Process of Development (London, Kluwer Law International, 2008) 343–55Google Scholar.

30 Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 7 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, [2000] OJ L303/16.

31 Recital 4 refers to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the United Nations Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and ILO Convention No 111, which prohibits discrimination in the field of employment and occupation.

32 See ILO Convention No 111, Art 5(2).

33 These were the Finnish and the Portuguese constitutions, see Lenaerts, and Gutiérrez-Fons, , ‘The Constitutional Allocation of Powers and General Principles of EU Law’ (2010) 47 Common Market Law Review 1629 at 1654, fn 142Google Scholar.

34 Case C-282/10 Dominguez v Centre informatique du Centre Ouest Atlantique (CICOA), judgment 24 January 2012.

35 Note that, although Mangold was confirmed in relation to the prohibition of age discrimination in Case C-555/07 Seda Kücükdeveci v Swedex GmbH & Co KG, [2010] ECR I-365, the ECJ did not apply its reasoning in Mangold in relation to other rights in Dominguez, n 34 above, and Case C-176/12 AMS v Union locale des syndicats CGT, judgment of 15 January 2014 (discussed below). See further Case C-356/12 Glatzel v Freistaat Bayern, judgment of 22 May 2014, para 43.

36 Case C-236/09 Test-Achats v Conseil des ministers [2011] ECR I-773.

37 Council Directive 2004/113/EC of 13 December 2004 implementing the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services ([2004] OJ L373/ 37).

38 Test-Achats, para 32.

39 Recital 19 of the Preamble states as follows: ‘Certain categories of risks may vary between the sexes. In some cases, sex is one but not necessarily the only determining factor in the assessment of risks insured. For contracts insuring those types of risks, Member States may decide to permit exemptions from the rule of unisex premiums and benefits, so long as they ensure that underlying actuarial and statistical date on which the calculations are based, are reliable, regularly updated and available to the public’.

40 See Watson, P, ‘Equality, fundamental rights and the limits of legislative discretion: comment on Test-Achats’ (2011) 36 European Law Review 896 at 901–2Google Scholar.

41 Above, n 36, at para 66 of the Opinion of AG Kokott.

42 Ibid, para 67.

43 Watson, n 40 above, at 899. As Watson points out, if it can be proved that a particular category of persons is less likely to be exposed to a specific risk than another category within the insured group why should it be prohibited for this to be reflected in the premium paid for coverage of that risk? See Watson, n 40 above, at 904.

44 Test-Achats, n 35 above, paras 33–34. Kokott AG considered as appropriate a transitional period of three years, commencing from the delivery of the judgment, which would have expired on 1 March 2014. The AG however opined that after that transitional period existing tariffs, premiums and benefits should also be re-adapted: See paras 80–81 of the Opinion.

45 Case C-376/98 Germany v European Parliament and Council [2000] ECR I-8419.

46 Ibid, para 117.

47 Joined Cases C-402/07 and C-432/07 Sturgeon v Condor Flugdienst GmbH [2009] ECR I-10923.

48 Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights ([2004] OJ L46/1).

49 Joined Cases C-293/12 and C-594/12 Digital Rights Ireland v Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, judgment of 8 April 2014; Case C-131/12 Google Spain SL v AEPD, judgment of 13 May 2014. For further cases involving those rights, see eg Joined Cases C-92/09 and C-93/09 Volker und Markus Schecke GbR and Hartmut Eifert v Land Hessen [2010] I-11063; Case C-291/12 Schwarz v Stadt Bochum, judgment of 17 October 2013.

50 Joined Cases C-293/12 and C-594/12 Digital Rights Ireland, judgment of 8 April 2014.

51 Directive 2006/24/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 on the retention of data generated or processed in connection with the provision of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communications networks and amending Directive 2002/58/EC ([2006] OJ L105/ 54).

52 Digital Rights Ireland, para 37.

53 Ibid.

54 Para 56.

55 Para 58.

56 Paras 60 and 61.

57 Paras 63–64.

58 Paras 66–68.

59 Para 47; the ECJ referred in support to Strasbourg case law under Article 8, in particular, S and Marper v United Kingdom, Application Nos 30562/04 and 30566/04, § 102, ECHR 2008-V.

60 Digital Rights Ireland, para 48.

61 Art 52(1) states that any limitation on the exercise of Charter rights must fulfill the following conditions: (a) it must be provided for by law; (b) it must respect the essence of the right concerned; and (c) it must meet the requirements of proportionality, namely it must be necessary and genuinely meet objectives of general interest.

62 Digital Rights Ireland, para 39.

63 Para 40.

64 See Joined Cases C-104/89 and C-37/90 Mulder and Others v Council and Commission (Mulder II) [1992] ECR I-3061.

65 Case C-131/12 Google Spain v AEPD, judgment of 13 May 2014, nyr.

66 Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, [1995] OJ L281/31.

67 Google Spain, n 65 above, paras, 37, 80.

68 Para 81.

69 Para 93.

70 The first results following the delivery of the judgment are not encouraging. On 2 July 2014, Google removed from its search engine access to a blog on the financial crisis written by the BBC’s economic editor in 2007. The blog mentioned only one individual by name, a senior figure in the financial services industry who was criticised for the investment policy of Merrill Lynch in the years leading to the financial crisis. For details, see BBC News online, 2 July 2014,, accessed on 2 July 2014.

71 In the circumstances of the case, the ECJ came very close to providing an outcome by giving a strong indication to the referring court. It held that, given the sensitivity of the information for Mr González’s private life and the fact that its initial publication had taken place 16 years earlier, in principle he had the right for the link to be removed from the search.

72 Art 6(1) TEU.

73 Art 6(3) TEU. This corresponds to the pre-Lisbon version of Art 6(2) TEU, although the formulation of Art 6(3) as it currently stands is somewhat different.

74 See Art 6(1) TEU and Art 52(5) of the Charter and the discussion below.

75 An example of this is provided by the attitude of the German Federal Constitutional Court towards EU law. See, in particular, the post-Mangold judgment of the Bundesverfassungsgericht, BVERFG, 2 BvR 2661/06, 6 July 2010. For the English version, see:

76 See eg Kadi II, n 17 above; Test Achats, n 36 above; Digital Rights Ireland, n 49 above; Google Spain, n 7 above; Case C-426/11 Alemo-Herron v Parkwood Leisure Ltd, judgment of 18 July 2013; Deutsches Weintor eG, n 7 above; Case C-283/11 Sky Österreich GmbH, n 7 above.

77 Case C-370/05 Festersen [2007] ECR I-1129, para 36.

78 In Festersen the Court held that Danish law, which required the acquirer of agricultural property to take up fixed residence in that property was a disproportionate restriction on the free movement of capital. In examining the compatibility of the requirement with the free movement of capital, the ECJ took into account the fact that it also interfered with the right to choose freely one’s residence as guaranteed by the Convention. This led the Court to characterise it as particularly restrictive and follow a heightened level of review in examining its compatibility with EU law.

79 See Byankov, n 114 below, para 47 referring to Ignatov v Bulgaria (Application No 50/02, judgment of 2 July 2009) and Gochev v Bulgaria (Application No 34383/03, judgment of 26 November 2009).

80 Case C-356/12 Glatzel v Freistaat Bayern, judgment of 22 May 2014, para 43.

81 See Charter, Art 53.

82 See Charter Art 52(4).

83 See eg Case 120/86 Mulder v Minister van Landbouw en Visserij (Mulder I) [1988] ECR 2321; Case C-143/93 Van eS Douane Agenten v Inspecteur der Invoerrechten en Accijnzen [1996] ECR I-431.

84 An example of this is the principle of abuse of right which has been recognised by the case law as a general principle of EU law. See eg Case C-321/05 Hans Markus Kofoed v Skatteministeriet [2007] ECR I-5795.

85 See eg Digital Rights Ireland and Google Spain, n 49 above.

86 See Charter, Preamble, recital 7.

87 See Art 52(1) which circumscribes the limitations on the rights defined by the Charter.

88 See Art 51(1). This is reiterated in the Explanations Relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, [2007] OJ C303/17/35 For the status of the explanations, see below.

89 Explanations, ibid, p 35.

90 Examples of provisions which lay down principles rather than rights are Arts 25 (rights of the elderly), Art 26 (integration of persons with disabilities), Art 37 (environmental protection).

91 This is the case, for example, in relation to Arts 23 (equality between men and women), 33 (family and professional life) and 34 (social security and social assistance). Art 34 was considered in Case C-571/10 Kamberaj Istituto per l’Edilizia sociale della Provincia autonoma di Bolzano (IPES) and Others [2012] ECR I-0000, nyr.

92 See eg Mangold, n 28 above.

93 See Art 6(1), sub-para 2, TEU.

94 See the declaration concerning the Charter annexed to the final act of the intergovernmental conference which adopted the Treaty of Lisbon, signed on 13 December 2007, [2008] OJ C115/337. The declaration received judicial acknowledgment in Case C-339/10 Asparuhov Estov and Others [2010] ECR I-11465, para 12.

95 Case C-256/11 Dereci v Bundesministerium für Inneres, judgment of 15 November 2011, paras 71–72; confirmed in Case C-87/12 Ymeraga v Ministre du Travail, de l’Emploi et de l’Immigration, judgment of 8 May 2013.

96 Art 24(1) TEU and 275 TFEU.

97 See above, section II.

98 See Explanations Relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, [2007] OJ C303/17. The explanations were originally prepared under the authority of the Praesidium of the Convention which drafted the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. They were subsequently updated under the responsibility of the Praesidium of the European Convention which drafted the aborted Constitutional Treaty. The Explanations do not as such have the status of law, however, under Art 6(1) TEU and Art 52(7) of the Charter, they must be given due regard by the EU courts and the courts of the Member States.

99 [2007] OJ C303/17 at 32, referring to Case 5/88 Wachauf v Bundesamt für Ernährung und Forstwirtschaft [1989] ECR 2609; Case C-260/89 ERT v Dimotiki Etairia Pliroforissis [1991] ECR I-2925; Case C-309/96 Annibaldi v Sindaco del Comune di Guidonia [1997] ECR I-7493; Case C-292/97 Karlsson and Others [2000] ECR I-2737, para 37.

100 See Joined Cases C-411/10 and C-493/10 NS v Secretary of State for the Home Department and ME and Others v Refugee Applications Commissioner and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, judgment of 21 December 2011, [2011] ECR I-865 at para 76 of the Opinion. This is also how it was understood by an English court: R (Zagorski and Baze) v Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills [2011] EuLR 315.

101 Case C-617/10 Åklagaren v Hans Åkerberg Fransson, judgment of 26 February 2013.

102 See para 40 of the Opinion.

103 Fransson, n 101 above, para 18.

104 See the Preamble to the Charter, Recital 5.

105 Fransson, n 101 above, paras 25–26.

106 This follows also from the duty of loyalty provided in Art 4(3) TEU which has been interpreted to require Member States to impose penalties for the infringement of EU law which are effective, proportionate and dissuasive. See e.g. Case 68/88 Commission v Greece [1989] ECR 2965, paras 23 and 24; Joined Cases C-387/02, C-391/02 and C-403/02 Criminal proceedings against Silvio Berlusconi, Sergio Adelchi, Marcello Dell’Utri and Others, [2005] ECR I-3565, para 53.

107 Fransson, n 101 above, para 29; Case C-399/11 Melloni v Ministerio Fiscal [2013] ECR I-0000, para 60, nyr.

108 Ibid.

109 Case C-176/12 AMS v Union locale des syndicats CGT, judgment of 15 January 2014, para 42.

110 See above, Art 51(2) of the Charter and Art 6(1) TEU.

111 Case C-339/10 Asparuhov Estov and Others v Ministerski savet na Republika Bulgaria [2010] ECR I-11465.

112 Ibid, para 14.

113 Case C-27/11 Vinkov v Nachalnik Administrativno-nakazatelna deynost, judgment of 7 June 2012.

114 See ibid, para 59.

115 See Case C-457/09 Chartry v État belge, order of 1 March 2011; Joined Cases C-483/11 and C-484/11 Boncea and Others v Statul roman and Budan v Statul roman, order of 14 December 2011; and see in relation to austerity measures: Case C-264/12 Sindicato Nacional dos Profissionais de Seguros e Afins v Fidelidade Mundial—Companhia de Seguors SA, order of 26 June 2014 and Case C-128/12 Sindicato dos Bancários do Norte v BPN—Banco Português de Negócios SA, Order of 7 March 2013.

116 See eg Case C-249/11 Byankov v Glaven sekretar na Ministerstvo na vatreshnite raboti, judgment of 4 October 2012, where the Court found that national law which prohibited the applicant from leaving the national territory on the ground that he had unpaid debts to private parties was within the scope of EU law and contrary to it. The Court held that any national measure which affects inter-state movement falls within the scope of EU law irrespective of whether it is intended to implement or affect it: para 33 and Case C-434/10 Aladzhov v Zamestnik direktor na Stolichna direktsia na vatreshnite raboti kam Ministerstvo na vatreshnite raboti [2011] ECR I-11659, paras 31–32.

117 Case C-206/13 Siragusa v Regione Sicilia—Soprintendenza Beni Culturali e Ambientali di Palermo, judgment of 6 March 2014.

118 The national court referred to Council Decision 2005/370 approving the Aarhus Convention, Council Regulation (EC) No 1367/2006 on the application of the provisions of the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters to EU institutions, Directive 2003/4 on public access to environmental information, Directive 2011/92 on environmental impact assessment, Arts 3(3) TEU and 21(2)(f) TEU, and Arts 4(2)(e), 11, 114 and 191 TFEU. Cf Case C-416/10 Križan and Others v Slovenská inšpekcia životného prostredia, judgment of 15 January 2013, where a link with EU environmental law was established.

119 Siragusa, n 117 above, para 24.

120 Para 25.

121 Para 31.

122 Para 32.

123 Para 35.

124 Joined Cases C-411/10 and C-493/10 NS v Secretary of State for the Home Department and ME and Others v Refugee Applications Commissioner and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, judgment of 21 December 2011.

125 Council Regulation (EC) No 343/2003 of 18 February 2003 ([2003] OJ L50/1).

126 NS, n 124 above, para 66.

127 Para 67.

128 Case C-370/12 Pringle v Government of Ireland, judgment of 27 November 2012.

129 Ibid, para 180.

130 Ibid, para 181.

131 See Art 12(1) of the ESM Treaty.

132 See Kadi I, n 11 above.

133 Case C-282/10 Dominguez v Centre informatique du Centre Ouest Atlantique (CICOA), judgment 24 January 2012.

134 The Presidium Explanations accompanying the Charter state that it applies to the central authorities as well as to regional or local bodies, and to public organisations, when they are implementing Union law. See Explanations, n 88 above, at 32.

135 See para 84 of the Opinion, n 133 above.

136 For an extensive discussion, see Tridimas, T, ‘Horizontal Effect of General Principles: Bold Rulings and Fine Distinctions’ in Bernitz, U, Groussot, X and Schulyok, F (eds), General Principles of EU Laws and European Private Law (London, Kluwer Law International, 2013) 213–32Google Scholar.

137 See eg Art 24(2) which states that ‘in all actions relating to children, whether taken by public authorities or private institutions, the child’s best interests must be a primary consideration’ (emphasis added). This provision is based on the New York Convention on the Rights of the Child signed on 20 November 1989. It was considered (but not in a horizontal situation) in Case C-648/11 R (on the application of MA and Others) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, judgment of 6 June 2013, nyr.

138 Case C-176/12 Association de médiation sociale (AMS) v Union locale des syndicats CGT, judgment of 15 January 2014, nyr.

139 Art 27 states as follows: ‘Workers or their representatives must, at the appropriate levels, be guaranteed information and consultation in good time in the cases and under the conditions provided for by Union law and national laws and practices’.

140 Directive 2002/14/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2002 establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community [2002] OJ L80/29.

141 Case C-106/89 Marleasing SA v La Comercial Internacional de Alimentacion SA [1990] ECR I-4135.

142 AMS, n 138 above, para 46. See, to the same effect in relation to Art 26 of the Charter, Case C-356/12 Glatzel v Freistaat Bayern, judgment of 22 May 2014, para 78.

143 Ibid. Case C-555/07 Kücükdeveci v Swedex GmbH & Co KG [2010] ECR I-365, para 46.

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