Skip to content
Home » Departments and Centres » Projects » Charter of Fundamental Rights

Charter of Fundamental Rights

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union: the travaux préparatoires and selected documents

edited by Niall Coghlan and Marc Steiert


201102 Picture Convention

The EU’s legal history is understudied, and the development of fundamental rights in the EU is no exception to this. Whilst legal historians have begun to analyse the way in which the judiciary came to protect fundamental rights through the elastic concept of general principles of Community law, a crucial turning point in the story remains poorly-understood: the proposal, drafting and elevation to primary law status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU between 1999 and 2009.

Whilst purporting merely to make existing rights “more visible”, in practice the Charter has transformed the role and status of fundamental rights in the Union.  Moreover, the Charter was not drafted in the dark corridors of diplomatic negotiation (like most human rights treaties) or in a long-passed revolutionary moment (like the American and French bills of rights); it was drafted in a public Convention between 1999 and 2000, with all documents published online, extensive public discussion by the participants, and an exchange with interested NGOs. Together, these documents submitted to and issued by the Convention that formed its basis of work constitute the preparatory works (travaux préparatoires) of the Charter.Despite this, not only does the Charter’s drafting remain little-understood from an historical perspective, but also very few legal studies of the Charter draw fully on the travaux préparatoires of the 1999-2000 Charter Convention.

One likely cause of this historical and legal neglect is the difficulty in accessing the travaux, hitherto only available by downloading the individual documents from the Council Document Register. This collection seeks to fill this gap. It brings together for the first time the complete travaux préparatoires of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in a single, fully-searchable and open-access document.

COLLECTION (to be published on 7 December 2020)

Table of Contents: 

    • Foreword by former Advocate General Eleanor V. E. Sharpston
    • Foreword by EUI President Renaud Dehousse
    • Analytical Introduction by Niall Coghlan and Marc Steiert
    • Convention chronology with document references
    • I. The final versions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights
    • II. Key Pre-Charter Convention documents
    • III. The Charter Convention travaux préparatoires 
    • IV. Key Post-Charter Convention documents

For this purpose, the collection is published on the Charter’s 20th anniversary on 7 December 2020. On 7 December 2000, the Charter was solemnly proclaimed by the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the European Commission in what was to become a prelude to the longest summit of the European Council in history. Still, the same Nice European Council deferred the decision on the Charter’s legal value, which was to remain non-binding until its elevation to primary law status with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009. Since then, the Charter has acquired a meaning of its own and serves increasingly as a yardstick for the assessment of EU law, its implementation, and the action of the Union’s institutions. Still, the Charter’s history is a world yet to be explored.

For practitioners, this collection will assist in interpreting the Charter: the travaux are legally relevant to the interpretation of the Charter. For legal, historical and political scholars, the collection will cast light not only on the drafting of the Charter itself, but more broadly on the evolution of human rights and on the operation of the ‘Convention’ system for drafting EU constitutional documents. This last point is of particular interest today, on the cusp of the coming Conference on the Future of Europe.


The content of the collection:

Core collection: At the heart of this collection are the travaux préparatoires from the 1999-2000 Convention as published by the Council and including meeting records, drafts, proposed amendments, contributions from Convention Members and contributions from others, primarily NGOs. This series is supplemented with other documents that have not yet been made publicly available, such as the last proposals for amendments by the Convention’s delegates.  Further, the collection includes the three key iterations of the Charter (2000, 2004 and 2007 versions and their accompanying Explanations) and an analytical introduction that should help the reader to navigate the collection.

Pre- and post-Convention documents: The Charter has deep roots, having been originally proposed as early as the 1970s. It also evolved substantially after the 2000 Convention, with the drafters of the Constitutional Treaty (2002-2003 Future of Europe Convention and 2003-2004 Inter-Governmental Conference) and of the Lisbon Treaty and beyond (2005-2007 Council and Inter-Governmental Conference, Irish Protocol and the withdrawn Czech Protocol) each altering the text, status and primary law framing of the Charter. These documents, beyond the travaux préparatoires, help one understand the final text and place of the Charter.

Image: © Communautés européennes 2000 

Page last updated on 22 March 2021

Go back to top of the page