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Law Notes European Law Notes

General Principles And Fundamental Rights Notes

Updated General Principles And Fundamental Rights Notes Notes

European Law Notes

European Law

Approximately 1161 pages

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General Principles and Fundamental Rights Notes

Article 6 TEU is the centre piece of the EU’s human rights framework.

  1. The Union recognises the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union of 7 December 2000, as adapted at Strasbourg, on 12 December 2007, which shall have the same legal value as the Treaties.

The provisions of the Charter shall not extend in any way the competences of the Union as defined in the Treaties.

The rights, freedoms and principles in the Charter shall be interpreted in accordance with the general provisions in Title VII of the Charter governing its interpretation and application and with due regard to the explanations referred to in the Charter, that set out the sources of those provisions.

  1. The Union shall accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Such accession shall not affect the Union's competences as defined in the Treaties.

  2. Fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, shall constitute general principles of the Union's law.

Article 6 TEU, then, states three formal sources for EU human rights law: (a) the Charter of Fundamental Rights, (b) The European Convention of Human Rights, and (c) general principles of EU law.

Despite the importance of Article 6 TEU, for many years human rights were not a concern of the EU, and thus human rights protection was more piecemeal.

What different general principles are currently protected by the courts?

Article 263 TFEU provided the foundation for the development of the principles of judicial review. It provides the ECJ with the power to review infringements of the Treaty or “any rule of law relating to their application”

  • It was not entirely clear what this meant, but the ECJ saw it as a window through which they could justify the imposition of general principles of law which now function as grounds of review.

The ECJ recognises a wide range of general principles, some of the most litigated include: (a) proportionality, (b) legal certainty and legitimate expectations, (c) non-discrimination, (d) transparency, and (e) the precautionary principle.

  • BUT: it should be noted that while there are many general principles, there are limitations

    • In Sonia Chacon Navas, the ECJ held that non-discrimination on the grounds of sickness was not a general principle

    • Further, in Audiolux, the ECJ said that “... the mere fact that secondary Community legislation lays down certain provisions relating to the protection of minority shareholders is not sufficient in itself to establish the existence of a general principle of Community law … [the relevant provisions of the Directive] are essentially limited to regulating very specific company-law situations by imposing on companies certain obligations for the protection of all shareholders. They do not therefore possess the general, comprehensive character which is otherwise naturally inherent in general principles of law


Proportionality is well established as a general principle of EU law, being enshrined in Article 5(4) TEU

  • The inquiry has three stages:

    • Whether the measure was suitable to achieve the desired end

    • Whether it was necessary to achieve the desired end

    • Whether the measure imposed an excessive burden on the individual in relation to the objective being sought

      • NOTE: there has been some doubt as to whether or not this third stage is actually a part of the CJEU’s proportionality inquiry

There are broadly speaking, three types of case that might be subject to challenge on the grounds of proportionality, and the intensity of review might differ in each.

  • Discretionary Policy Choices

    • Here, an individual will argue that the policy choice made by the administration is disproportionate

      • The judiciary is cautious in this type of case, given that it is the function of the administrative/political arm of government to policy choices

      • Per British American Tobacco, proportionality will be applicable to a policy choice wherever the EU legislature exercises a broad discretion involving political, economic or social choices requiring it to make complex assessments.

    • R v Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, ex p Fedesa

      • Held: “the legality of a measure adopted in that sphere can be affected only of the measure is manifestly inappropriate having regard to the objective which the competent institution is trying to pursue”

        • The review was not to be an intensive one

  • Rights

    • Here, an individual will argue that their rights have been unduly restricted by Union action

      • Here the judiciary will engage in vigorous scrutiny

    • Digital Rights Ireland

      • Facts: Provisions of a Directive which mandated data retention for the purposes of crime prevention and detection was challenged on the grounds of infringing Articles 7,8 and 11 of the Charter

      • Held: The CJEU said that the Directive did infringe the private life and personal data protections under Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter

        • “With regard to judicial review of compliance with those conditions, where interferences with fundamental rights are at issue, the extent of the EU legislature’s discretion may prove to be limited, depending on a number of factors, including, in particular, the are concerned, the nature of the right at issue guaranteed by the Charter, the nature and seriousness of the interference and the object pursued by the interference”

          • This was a very intensive standard of review

  • Penalties

    • Here an individual will argue that the penalty imposed is excessive

      • Man (Sugar) – the ECJ held that a forfeit of a deposit of 1.6 million was too drastic in light of the function performed by export licenses

Legal Certainty and Legitimate Expectations

Legal certainty and legitimate expectations are connected concepts which...

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