The Quest for Consistency between the EU and the European Convention on Human Rights

Last Tuesday it was my pleasure to participate in the seminar brilliantly organised and run by Prof. Jan Wouters and Prof. Pietro Franzina at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan on the topic: “How strong is the European Union’s commitment to International Law?”.

My own presentation was about “The Quest for Consistency between the EU and the European Convention on Human Rights”. It was built around the following five key findings.

1. Consistency between EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights (“Convention”) is needed not least because the domestic courts of the EU Member States are bound to comply with the Convention when applying EU law. Their compliance with the Convention can be assessed by the European Court of Human Rights in the context of an application under Article 34 of the Convention. This can give rise to the finding of a violation of the Convention (as in Bivolaru and Moldovan v. France). Thus, the domestic judges engage their responsibility under the Convention when applying EU law.

2. The EU legislature has developed an appropriate methodology designed to ensure the necessary consistency between EU law and the Convention, by establishing the latter as minimum protection level in the field of EU law. This is indeed the rationale of Article 52(3) of the EU-Charter on Fundamental Rights, of the non-regression clauses which can be found in several instruments of secondary legislation enshrining fundamental rights and, ultimately, of Article 6(2) TEU ordering the EU to accede to the Convention. Under this scheme, the Convention level can be raised but should not be lowered by EU law.

3. The implementation of this methodology by the EU courts gives rise to a mixed picture, though. It would indeed appear that the Convention is much more frequently used by the CJEU as a simple toolbox designed to fill gaps in EU legislation or jurisprudence (as, typically, in Spetsializirana prokuratura (trial of an absconded suspect)) than as a benchmark of the requisite minimum protection level sheltering domestic judges from breaching the Convention when applying EU law (as, typically, in HN).

4. Where the CJEU relies on the Convention, it often does so by using a terminology and/or a methodology which is not entirely similar to that of the Convention, but not entirely different either (as, typically, in bpost). This creates a kind of permanent ambivalence as to whether the duality of norms thus created also entails a duality of protection and, if so, in what sense. It is also ignoring the fact that contrary to EU law itself, domestic judges are not autonomous.

5. In such situations, domestic judges are left in the dark as to whether they can rely on the fact that they will not breach the Convention when applying CJEU standards (as they would actually do by applying, for instance, a test such as the one emerging from N.S. and Others).  A more general commitment by the CJEU to the benchmark function of the Convention established by the EU legislature would be most helpful here.

The Powerpoint presentation of my talk is enclosed below.