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

The work of the Convention responsible for drafting the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU

Four months after the Cologne European Council, the specific working methods and precise composition of the working group to draw up a draft text containing the fundamental rights were established in Tampere, Finland. It was a historic experience. For the first time, MEPs joined with members of national parliaments, representatives of heads of state and the Commission to draw up a constitutional text.

The 62 members began their work in Brussels on 17 December 1999. At the request of several MEPs, they quickly gave the group the more symbolic name of ‘Convention’. The Convention was made up of Members of the European Parliament (16), delegates from national parliaments (two per state, or 30 in total), representatives of governments (15 at the time) and a single Commission representative. Furthermore, two representatives of the Court of Justice of the European Communities and two representatives of the Council of Europe, including a representative of the European Court of Human Rights, were involved in proceedings. A dialogue was also established with the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Ombudsman. Finally, candidate countries for accession to the European Union, social groups and experts were also invited to take part in deliberations.

The Convention was chaired by Roman Herzog, a former president of the German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe and of the Federal Republic of Germany, who was involved in launching the initiative. He was assisted by a drafting committee (Presidium), and close cooperation was established with the Council General Secretariat team and the interdepartmental task force set up especially to provide assistance to the European Parliament delegation throughout the drafting process. The proceedings of the Convention and Presidium began on the Council’s premises, but subsequently were conducted almost entirely at the European Parliament in Brussels, making the job of the MEPs considerably easier, given their lead role in drafting the Charter.

The diverse make-up of the Convention quickly proved to be a positive factor in the debates. Over the nine months of the Convention’s work, an unprecedented dialogue was established with civil society, with dozens of non-governmental organisations being consulted and making contributions. From the outset, the Convention decided to make its decisions by consensus. The Convention’s work was designed to be especially transparent, so its sessions were public and all the preparatory documents were freely available on a dedicated website.