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Accession of the European Union
to the European Convention on Human Rights

The negotiators, representatives of the 47 Council of Europe member states and of the European Union, have finalised the draft accession agreement of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights. It consists of a package of texts, equally necessary for the accession of the EU to the ECHR: a draft agreement on the accession of the EU to the ECHR and a draft explanatory report, a draft declaration by the EU, a draft rule to be added to the Rules of the Committee of Ministers for the supervision of the execution of judgments and of the terms of friendly settlements in cases to which the EU would be a party, a draft model of a memorandum of understanding.

The draft agreement contains provisions on the scope of the accession, including as regards the accession to the ECHR protocols or the admissible reservations, on the needed adjustments to the ECHR text and system, including the creation of a co-respondent mechanism in cases involving both the EU and one or more of its member states, on the participation of the EU in the Council of Europe bodies, on the EU financial participation to the ECHR system and on its right to vote within the Committee of Ministers. 

An opinion of the EU Court of Justice will be sought on the compatibility of the draft agreement with EU treaties. The Council of the EU will have to adopt unanimously the decision authorising the signature of the accession agreement. All EU member states will have to complete their internal procedure to ratify the agreement. The EU will have to ratify the agreement and the Committee of Ministers of the CoE will have to adopt it.  

The background

Formal and informal talks on the ways to achieve the accession of the EU to the ECHR had taken place within both organisations in the late 1970s, before the issue was brought to the forefront once again with the adoption of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights (7 December 2000).

With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty (1 December 2009) and of Protocol 14 to the ECHR (1 June 2010), the accession has no longer been merely a wish, it has become a legal obligation. However, some adjustments to the ECHR system are necessary in order to have the 48th High Contracting Party, which is a non-state entity with a specific and complex legal system.

The EU accession to the ECHR is one of the highest priorities of the Council of Europe and it constitutes a historical step for several reasons:

As a result of acceding to the ECHR, the EU will be integrated into the fundamental rights protection system of the ECHR. In addition to the internal protection of these rights by the EU law and the Court of Justice, the EU will be bound to respect the ECHR and will be placed under the external control of the European Court of Human Rights.

This will enhance consistency between the Strasbourg and the Luxembourg Courts and will afford citizens protection against the action of the EU, similar to that which they already enjoy against the action of Council of Europe member states.  

The accession will also enhance the credibility of the EU in the eyes of third countries, which the EU regularly calls upon, in its bilateral relations, to respect the ECHR.

The negotiation process

In 2001, the Working Group GT-DH-EU was instructed to carry out a study of the legal and technical issues that would have to be addressed by the Council of Europe in the event of possible accession by the EU to the ECHR, as well as of the means to avoid any contradiction between the legal system of the EU and that of the ECHR.

On 4 June 2010, the EU Ministers of Justice gave the European Commission the mandate to conduct negotiations on their behalf. On 26 May 2010, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe gave an ad-hoc mandate to its Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) to elaborate, in co-operation with the European Commission, the necessary legal instrument for the accession. The CDDH entrusted the informal working group CDDH-UE with this task. It was composed of 14 experts from the Council of Europe member states (7 from EU member states and 7 from non-EU member states). The group held 8 meetings between July 2010 and June 2011.

On 14 October 2011, the CDDH transmitted a report to the Committee of Ministers on the work done by the CDDH-UE, and the draft legal instrument in appendix. Given the political implications and some of the issues that were raised, on 13 June 2012, the Committee of Ministers instructed the CDDH to pursue negotiations with the EU within the ad hoc group 47+1 and to finalise the legal instrument dealing with the accession modalities. The ad hoc group held 5 meetings in Strasbourg. The last meeting was held on 2-5 April 2013.