The Impotence of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter

The Impotence of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter

Let me be clear: I have always opposed the European Constitution/Lisbon Treaty, for reasons which I have rehearsed many times.  And I have opposed the associated Charter of Fundamental Rights.  I believe first that it is unnecessary, as in the UK our rights are adequately protected (or were, until this Labour government got to work); secondly, the Charter embodies the alien, continental idea that our rights are given us by the state, whereas we in England believe that our rights are born with us as free men and women, and are inalienable; and third, because pompous high-flown “Charters of Rights” are a perfect excuse for leftist activist judges to make up new law as they go along, without reference to the people.  They are a field-day for lawyers.  In a very real sense, the Charter marks a transfer of law-making power from elected parliamentarians (whom we may not like, but at least we can sack), to judges who are beyond the reach of democratic accountability.

But be that as it may, I had assumed that at least the Charter did what it says on the tin.  Take Article 17, for example, on Property Rights.

This Article says that EU citizens have “the right to own, use, dispose of and bequeath lawfully acquired possessions.  No one may be deprived of them, except in the public interest and in the cases and under the conditions provided for by law, subject to fair compensation being paid in good time for their loss”.

Pretty fair and clear, I’d say.  I understood this to mean (and I daresay any reader would take it to mean) that all “EU citizens” have a clear right to their property which they can enforce, if necessary, in the European Court of Justice.  Right?  No.  Wrong.

On Monday at the Petitions Committee meeting in Brussels, a spokesman for the Commission Mr. William Floyd set out the position.  Yes, there is a Right to Property in the Charter, but it only applies in the implementation of EU law.  If the laws concerned are merely national laws, the much-vaunted provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights simply do not apply.  And in the case of the Spanish Property scams, we are dealing with Spanish national law, and the EU and the Commission are powerless (so says Mr. Floyd) to take any action.  Indeed he went further.  He argued that the Auken Report, in which the parliament raised its concerns over Spanish property problems, had “raised unrealistic hopes” amongst petitioners, because there was nothing that the EU Institutions could do.

This is surely extraordinary.  The Charter was sold as a grandiose gesture protecting the rights of citizens.  It was to be a firm, inviolable EU guarantee.  Any citizen can invoke it at any time to ensure that his rights are protected.  Except that when you do invoke it, it turns out to be about as useful as a chocolate tea-pot.  We all know the old jokes about the insurance company that lends you an umbrella but asks for it back when it starts to rain.  It seems that the European Commission is in the same business.

There remains however one thing we can do, and that is to embarrass the hell out of the Spanish government.  In my speech on Monday I included, extempore, a throw-away line: “If my constituents ever ask me for advice on buying property in Spain, I say DON’T”. This obviously hit a nerve — it was widely reported in the Spanish press on Tuesday, in El Pais and El Mundo.  In the current six months of the Spanish Presidency of the EU, we have an opportunity to raise the profile of the issue.  I think we have made a pretty fair start.

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3 Responses to The Impotence of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter

  1. It isn’t just impotence. It is far worse. Take The European Convention on Human Rights (As you know, we have signed up to this). If you read paras 8.2, 9.2, 10.2 and 11.2 they all include the word necessary, as it describes State’s power eg:

    9.2 Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

    Who decides what limitations are necessary? The State, of course! These aren’t rights, they are constraints and are now constraints that can be wielded by the EU.

     The European Convention on
    Human Rights

  2. This is quite depressing. Wherever would EU law directly transgress property rights? The Charter itself is now EU law, so it should be implemented.
    However, there could be some follow up as regards Spain.This country adopted the Charter in 2007 as “National Law”- ie. it transcends the regional laws such as the Valencian LRAU and the newer LUV, etc. Further, Spain entered no reservations as regards the Charter when it came into force as a result of the Lisbon Accord. So again, this is national law and there is no doubt that the right to property is a “fundamental one” because of the Charter. The Spanish sophistry has been that this right is “merely” basic, thus the stitch ups with the regions as regards “development” can take precedence over the Charter provisions. If this how the Spaniards view the basic document holding this place together, then is this really a country? Where is the “Estado de Derecho”? It certainly does not equate to “Rule of Law”. The vestigial six month Spanish Presidency of the EU ending on June 30 was to put it mildly , lacklustre and uninspiring.Little surprise there.
    Our hopes and best wishes go with you and others as they take this forward when the Parliament resumes its “work” in a few weeks.

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