European Union accession to the European Convention on Human Rights - Questions and Answers
What is happening?
The EU Commission and the 47 member states of the Council of Europe will re-start formal negotiations towards the European Union’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg from 29 September to 2 October 2020.
What is the European Convention on Human Rights?
The European Convention on Human Rights is an international treaty launched by the Council of Europe in 1950 to help protect people’s human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Council of Europe is not part of the European Union. It is a separate international organisation, created in 1949, which promotes human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
What does EU accession to the ECHR mean?
All 47 Council of Europe member states, including the 27 EU countries, are already parties to the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the EU itself is not.
This means that actions of the EU’s institutions, agencies and other bodies cannot currently be challenged at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Moreover, individuals can lodge complaints against EU member states at the European Court of Human Rights concerning their actions taken when implementing EU law. However, the EU itself cannot be formally involved in those proceedings.
Accession will make it possible for the EU to take part in such cases – and the implementation of the Strasbourg court’s judgments – alongside its member states.
Essentially, the EU’s accession to the ECHR will mean that the EU is subjected to the same rules and the same system of international oversight on human rights as its 27 member states and the 20 other Council of Europe members.
Why is EU accession to the ECHR important?
The EU’s accession to the ECHR will make it possible for individuals to take complaints against the EU to an independent international court – the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Under the terms of the ECHR, the EU will be obliged to put right any human rights violations found by the Strasbourg court.
This will help to create a “level playing field” on human rights across the continent.
It will also help to make sure that rulings on human rights from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg are legally consistent.
What has happened so far?
The Lisbon Treaty of 2009 included a legal commitment that the EU would accede to the ECHR.
Extensive negotiations took place between the 47 Council of Europe member states and the European Commission, negotiating on behalf of the EU, between 2010 and 2013.
However, in December 2014, the EU Court of Justice concluded that the resulting agreement was not compatible with EU law.
In October 2019, European Commission informed the Secretary General of the Council of Europe that the EU was ready to resume negotiations on its accession to the ECHR.
The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers decided on the respective negotiating mandate in early 2020 leading to the formal resumption of negotiations this week.