The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union turns 20!

Establishing a Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

In June 1999, at the Cologne European Council, the Heads of State or Government of the fifteen Member States decided to codify the rights of European citizens in order to make their overriding importance and relevance more visible to citizens. This decision felt like a victory for the European Parliament. There were, in fact, several reasons behind this shift in the European Council’s stance. Firstly, the gradual expansion of the European Union’s competences also increased the likelihood that citizens’ rights would be affected by the actions of EU institutions or Member States.

Secondly, the imminent enlargement of the European Union to include countries that had until recently been under undemocratic regimes added to fears about the issue of human rights. Fundamental rights and common values therefore needed to be defined in a single text and needed to be protected at EU level. Lastly, it was important for the European Union to have a clear catalogue of fundamental rights, because they were increasingly at the heart of its relations with third countries.