The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Charter) is a modern bill of fundamental rights that complements national constitutions and international human rights instruments, in particular the European Convention on Human Rights. It was proclaimed in 2000 and has been legally binding since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009 [1]. Not only is it a powerful symbol of the EU’s commitment to upholding fundamental rights in every aspect of its work, it is also an important tool to improve the lives of people across Europe.

It has an equal focus on the whole human experience: the civil and political sides of our lives as well as the economic, social and cultural. The powerful rights catalogue of the Charter contains many rights not found in established bills of rights, such as the right to good administration, the protection of our personal data, the explicit right to asylum, the right to conduct a business and a the right to consumer protection. The Charter has direct domestic national effect in EU Member States when the issue is one of EU competence.

The Charter applies at national level when the Member States are “implementing EU law” (Article 51(1) of the Charter). This is a rather broad notion, which “[…] follows unambiguously from the case-law of the Court of Justice” [2] . Thus, EU fundamental rights are potentially relevant to a wide range of subject areas, including those covered primarily by national law. [3]

Nevertheless, as recent research of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) shows, the Charter’s full potential at national level remains untapped. The reality is that legal practitioners and other relevant actors are often unsure whether or not the Charter applies to a given situation, and how it adds value. Even in expert circles, what does and does not fall within the Charter’s field of application is not always well understood.

FRA is committed to support use of the Charter at national level. We have already published a handbook for legal practitioners on the application of the Charter and recently made available country-sheets [4] giving examples of the Charter’s use and highlighting how it adds value. We are also maintaining the so-called “Charterpedia” – an easy to access online tool with legal information on the Charter, including relevant case law from the European and national levels. And we include an analysis of use of the Charter in our annual Fundamental Rights Report.

Finally, the Agency has launched the “European Fundamental Rights Information System” - an online programme that inter-alia pulls together all the judicial findings of all the bodies dealing with fundamental rights, country by country, theme by theme.

The Charter is the EU’s human rights Magna Carta – let’s use this anniversary year to put it at the heart of our legal work!

Michael O’Flaherty

Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights



[1] See Official Journal of the European Union, OJ C 83, 30 March 2010, pp. 389–403.

[2] Explanations on Art. 51; see European Union (EU) (2007), Explanations relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, OJ 2007/C 303, 14 December 2007, pp. 17–37.

[3] See, for example, CJEU, C-276/12, Jiří Sabou v. Finanční ředitelství pro hlavní město Prahu [GC], 22 October 2013. See also FRA(2018), Handbook. Applying the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in law and policymaking at national level, available at

[4] UK country-sheet can be accessed here:


Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights