European Union

EU internal human rights initiatives

Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union states that the EU is founded on “the principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, principles which are common to Member States”. This article also states that the Union shall respect fundamental rights.

For this purpose, the EU set up the Fundamental Rights Agency which was founded in Vienna in 2007. It analyses the human rights situation within the Union and makes recommendations to the different EU institutions on the implementation of Community legislation. The Agency works mainly on combating terrorism and discrimination, but also on themes including citizen participation and immigration, publishing research studies and raising awareness affecting public opinion on these subjects. It is made up of different bodies, including a Management Board, an Executive Board, a Scientific Committee and a fundamental rights platform (NGO).

The Charter of Fundamental of Rights was also signed and declared at the Nice European Council session in 2000. In future it is to be incorporated into the EU Treaties and will then become binding.

EU external human rights initiatives

Since the Treaty of Amsterdam, which was signed in 1997 and came into effect in 1999, human rights have also been part of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Under this remit, the EU has developed and implemented different initiatives to promote and protect human rights in third countries, also in the framework of other international organisations.

EU external initiatives for the protection and promotion of human rights include:

  • human rights dialogues which the EU holds with several third states such as China and Russia;
  • the human rights guidelines, which were adopted by the EU Council on seven themes which come as a priority for the EU in human rights matters. They describe the different approaches to implementing these priorities in EU relations with third countries (see related thematic pages);
  • representations and declarations on individual cases and/or general human rights violations;
  • the conclusions of the General Affairs and External Relations Council;
  • the action undertaken by the Personal Representative for the EU High Representative on human rights in the area of foreign policy, who raises human rights issues during official visits abroad, meets with NGOs, etc.;
  • human rights projects in the field, financed by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights;
  • drawing up, supporting and mentoring resolutions which deal with human rights matters within the UN;
  • electoral observation missions in third countries;
  • the insertion of human rights clauses in cooperation agreements signed with third countries;
  • crisis management operations under the remit of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) which may include human rights aspects such as good governance or the strengthening of democratic institutions;
  • mainstreaming human rights in all EU external policies.

European Union human rights website 

EU human rights guidelines

European Union Fundamental Rights Agency website