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9.2.  EU citizens' rights and freedoms

    Protection of fundamental rights is a founding principle of the Union and an indispensable prerequisite for its legitimacy. Article 6 of the EU Treaty states that 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. Moreover, as stipulated in Article 6 (TEU) and Protocol No 8 annexed to the treaty of Lisbon, the Union shall accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Fundamental rights, as guaranteed by this Convention and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, constitute general principles of the Union's law (Article 6 TEU). The Union constitutes an area of freedom, security and justice with respect for fundamental rights and the different legal systems and traditions of the Member States (Article 67 TFEU) [see section 8.1].

    The Charter of fundamental rights of European citizens was officially proclaimed at the Nice European Council (7-9 December 2000) by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. It is divided into chapters dealing with the universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, citizenship and justice. It is designed to make more visible and explicit to the European Union's citizens the fundamental rights, which are already derived from a variety of international and European sources, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Treaties and the case-law of the Court of Justice. Alongside the standard civil and political rights and the rights of citizens deriving from the European Treaties, the charter incorporates fundamental social and economic rights, such as the rights of workers to collective bargaining, to take strike action and to be informed and consulted.

    However, Poland and the United Kingdom secured a protocol to the treaty of Lisbon relating to the application of the Fundamental Rights Charter in their respective countries. The protocol No 30 contains two substantial provisions: it precludes both the domestic courts in Poland and the UK, and the EU's courts from finding that "laws, regulations or administrative provisions, practices or action" in the countries to which it applies are inconsistent with the Charter; and it says that the Title IV of the Charter, which contains economic and social rights, does not create justiciable rights applicable to Poland and the UK. A Declaration by the Czech Republic stresses that its provisions are addressed to the Member States only when they are implementing Union law, and not when they are adopting and implementing national law.

    Article 49 of the TEU makes membership of the Union conditional upon the respect of the values set out in Article 2, i.e. respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. Hence: (a) a European State that does not respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens cannot become a member of the Union; and (b) the government of a Member State cannot injure its citizens' rights, if it does not want to exclude its country from the Union.

    Indeed, Article 7 (TEU) provides measures in the event of a breach by a Member State of the values on which the Union is founded, including the suspension of the voting rights of the government of that Member State in the Council. Upon a proposal from one-third of the Member States, the European Parliament or the Commission, the Council, acting by a four-fifths majority of its members and with the assent of Parliament, can declare that a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2 (TEU). The European Council, acting by unanimity, but without taking into account the vote of the representative of the Member State concerned, may determine the existence of a serious and persistent breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2. Where such a determination has been made, the Council, acting by a qualified majority, may decide to suspend certain of the rights deriving from the application of the Treaty to the State in question, including its voting rights in the Council. The Commission has outlined the criteria for assessment of a "clear risk" and a "serious and persistent" breach, making it clear that the procedure is geared to tackling risk or actual breach through a comprehensive political approach [COM/2003/606].

    The objective of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights is to provide the relevant institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the European Union and its Member States when implementing European law with assistance and expertise relating to fundamental rights in order to support them when they take measures or formulate courses of action within their respective spheres of competence to fully respect the fundamental rights of EU citizens [Regulation 168/2007]. A multiannual framework defines the precise thematic areas of the work of the agency for the period 2007-12 [Decision 2008/203].

    Article 20 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU mentions indicatively the main rights of EU citizens: (a) the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States; (b) the right to vote and to stand as candidates in elections to the European Parliament and in municipal elections in their Member State of residence, under the same conditions as nationals of that State; (c) the right to enjoy, in the territory of a third country in which the Member State of which they are nationals is not represented, the protection of the diplomatic and consular authorities of any Member State on the same conditions as the nationals of that State; and (d) the right to petition the European Parliament, to apply to the European Ombudsman, and to address the institutions and advisory bodies of the Union in any of the Treaty languages and to obtain a reply in the same language.

    The treaty of Lisbon (following the Nice Treaty) confers on every citizen of the Union a primary and individual right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, subject to the limitations and conditions laid down in the Treaties and to the measures adopted to give it effect (Articles 3 TEU and 21 TFEU, ex Articles 2 TEU and 18 TEC). Hence, Directive 2004/38 replaced various instruments of European law concerning freedom of movement and residence with a single text, aimed at reinforcing this fundamental entitlement of EU citizens by means of more flexible conditions and formalities and better protection against expulsion [see section 6.4.2]. By virtue of this Directive, EU citizens enjoy right of residence provided that they satisfy certain conditions, notably if they themselves and the members of their families have sickness insurance covering all the risks in the host Member State. The directive facilitates considerably the freedom of movement and right of residence of family members of EU citizens, including the registered partner if the legislation of the host Member State treats registered partnership as equivalent to marriage. In addition, family members enjoy enhanced legal protection, notably in the event of the death of the EU citizen on whom they depend or the dissolution of the marriage, subject to certain conditions. The right of residence in any Member State has been teamed up with a number of practical measures such as the introduction of national driving licences based on a European model [Directive 2006/126, last amended by Directive 2016/1106].

    In addition to the fundamental rights, as defined in the Charter of fundamental rights of the Union and in Article 20 of the TFEU, the citizens of the European Union have many rights, some of which they are not even aware of because they appear obvious. Their self-evident nature is a consequence of the existence of the Union and the membership of their State of origin to it. The Court of Justice has established that European law, independent from the legislation of the Member States, can create obligations and rights for individuals [Case 26/62]. These rights are so numerous that it would be tedious to list them all here. Almost all the provisions of European law examined in Europedia create rights and obligations for the citizens of the EU's Member States, particularly as regards professional activities. The weight of this law is growing as European integration marches forward. It is superimposed on national law and in many cases simply replaces it [see section 3.3]. It therefore has growing influence over the professional and day-to-day lives of European citizens.

    Some examples may illustrate the importance of European law for the professional activities of citizens. Traders have the right to consider the entire European Union as a potential market and therefore to purchase in any of the Member States and sell anywhere in the Union without any import duties or quantitative restrictions [see sections 5.1 and 6.2]. Workers have the right to seek employment anywhere they wish in the Union, set up home with their family in the country where they are working and remain there even after they have lost their job [see section 6.4.1]; they have the right to exactly the same social benefits as the citizens of the Member State in which they are residing [see section 6.4.2]. Industrialists have the right to set up subsidiaries or branches anywhere in the EU where they feel that favourable growth conditions for their company exist and to transfer capital to and from these subsidiaries without restriction [see section 6.7]. They have the right to borrow investment capital from a financial institution established in another country of the Union under the conditions prevalent in that country [see section 6.6.1]. Businessmen have the right to be treated without discrimination by the public authorities of all Member States concerning all their professional activities, including the procedures for the award of public supply or works contracts [see section 6.3]. Farmers have the right to guaranteed prices for their produce and therefore to a certain guarantee of income [see sections 21.4.2 and 21.4.3]; sea fishermen also enjoy this right [see section 22.3]. Members of the professions - lawyers, architects, doctors and so on - have the right to set up a practice and to work in any Member State [see section 6.5]. Women have the right for equal treatment with men in their professional life [see section 13.5.5].

    Some EU policies influence not only the professional life, but also the everyday life of citizens. Thus, important measures for the citizens in the fields of employment, vocational training, security at work and public health have their origin in the European social policy. Furthermore, obligations imposed on industrialists by the common policies of environment and consumers' protection have important effects on the quality of life of citizens. The citizens have the right to purchase goods - such as cars, electric and electronic appliances or clothes - in any one country of the Union at the conditions prevailing in that country and to take them to their country of origin without paying customs duties or any tax supplements [see section 5.1.2]. They have the right to use any banking, insurance, telecommunications and audiovisual service offered in the large European market. They have the right to be treated by the administrative or judicial authorities of a country of the Union in the same way as the nationals of that country, i.e. without any discrimination on grounds of nationality (Article 18 TFEU, ex Article 12 TEC). This right covers a wide range of situations and human relations such as financial, contractual, family or student, which fall within the scope of European law [Case C-85/96].

    Many EU countries signed, on June 19, 1990, the Schengen Convention for the abolition of border checks at the frontiers between them, the reinforcement of controls at external borders and the cooperation among their administrations. A Protocol annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam (and now to the treaty of Lisbon) integrates the Schengen "acquis" - i.e., the existing legislation - into the framework of the European Union [Decisions 1999/435 and 1999/436] and allows the signatories to the Schengen Convention (the Member States of the Union minus the United Kingdom and Ireland plus Norway and Iceland [OJ L 149/2000] as well as Switzerland [Agreement and Decision 2008/903]) to initiate between them, within the legal and institutional framework of the Union, cooperation in the areas covered by the Convention. Ireland participates in all aspects of the Schengen acquis with the exception of those elements linked to border controls, notably cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit [Decision 2002/192]. The new Member States apply the Schengen acquis in full [Decision 2007/801]. The United Kingdom participates in cooperation in police, judicial and criminal matters, drug trafficking and the Schengen information system [Decision 2000/365 and Decision 2004/926]. A European Code establishes rules governing the movement of persons across borders as well as rules governing border control of persons crossing the external borders of the Member States of the European Union (Schengen Borders Code) [Regulation 2016/399]. Border controls may be carried out solely within an area of 20 kilometers from the land border [Joined Cases C-188/10 and C-189/10]. EU rules on local border traffic at the external land borders of the Member States ease their crossing for border residents [Regulation 1931/2006]. An evaluation and monitoring mechanism verifies the application of the Schengen acquis in the Member States to which it applies in full or in part [Regulation 1053/2013].

    The second generation Schengen information system (SIS II) constitutes an essential tool for the application of the provisions of the Schengen acquis [Regulation 1988/2006 and Decision 2007/533 and Regulations 1272/2012 and 1273/2012]. It contributes to maintaining a high level of security within the area of freedom, security and justice of the European Union by supporting the implementation of policies linked to the movement of persons that are part of the Schengen acquis, as integrated into Treaty establishing the European Community. SIS II includes a computerised central system (Central SIS II) and national applications. A Regulation lays down provisions on the technical architecture of SIS II, the responsibilities of the Member States and of the management authority, on general data processing, the rights of the persons concerned and liability [Regulation 1987/2006 and Decision 2015/450]. It also establishes the conditions and procedures for the entry and processing in SIS II of alerts in respect of third-country nationals, the exchange of supplementary information and additional data for the purpose of refusing entry into, or a stay in, a Member State.

    Some new functions were introduced in the SIS II, including in the fight against terrorism [Decision 2007/533, see section 8.1.4]. A European Agency is responsible for the operational management of the SIS II, the Visa Information System (VIS) and Eurodac [Regulation 1077/2011, see also sections 8.1.3 and 8.1.4]. The services in the Member States which are responsible for issuing registration certificates for vehicles have the right of access to data entered into the Schengen information system (SIS II), for the sole purpose of checking whether the vehicles presented to them have been stolen, misappropriated or lost [Regulation 1986/2006]. The services concerned are thus able to use those data for the administrative purpose of properly issuing registration certificates for vehicles.

    Tourism or business travel in the EU is made easier by European law and the use of a single currency facilitates travellers inside the euro zone countries [see section 7.2.4]. Travellers can buy goods without any limits in the Member State visited and bring them home without paying extra duties. Checks on the car insurance green card were abolished, as were the disembarkment cards upon arrival in a partner country. Citizens of the Member States can carry a near limitless sum of currency on their intra-European trips, whereas, before the liberalisation of capital movements they could take only limited tourist allowance. On package travel, they have won protection against the unfair practices of tour operators under European legislation [Directive 2015/2302, see section 11.3.]. On air trips, they are also protected against the over-reservation practices of airlines [Regulation 261/2004, see section 20.3.5]. Travellers can use the phone number 112 to call emergency services throughout the European Union, from fixed or mobile phones, free of charge [Decision 91/396 and Directive 2002/22]. In the event of illness or accident in a Member State other than that of residence they are covered by the social security system on presentation of the European health insurance card, which proves their entitlement to social security cover in the country of residence [Decisions 2003/751, 2003/752 and 2003/753, see section 6.4.2]. In the ports and airports of the Member States, special channels exist for citizens of the European Union who possess a uniform passport [Resolutions of 23/06/1981, of 14/07/1986 and of 10/07/1995]. Persons passing internal frontiers in the Schengen area have not to go through a passport control [Decision 2000/586]. The movement of owners of pet animals within the EU is greatly facilitated thanks to common rules for compliance checks on such movement [Regulation 576/2013].

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    Your roadmap in the maze of the European Union.

    Based on the book of Nicholas Moussis:
    Access to European Union law, economics, policies
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