Article

Distinguishing “individual rights” from “principles”

Julian Kulaga, 4th Year Student LLB “English Law and German Law” at King’s College London / Humboldt University of Berlin

Introduction

As a general rule, individuals cannot rely on the provisions of EU Directives themselves in proceedings between two private parties[1] even when such provisions are clear, precise and unconditional[2] and even after the state has not transposed the directive by the prescribed deadline.[3]

However, in 2005, the CJEU decided in Mangold that a directive establishing a general framework for equal treatment had horizontal direct effect because it was the responsibility of the national court to guarantee the full effectiveness of the general principle of non-discrimination in respect of age.[4] Yet Mangold is considered to be one of the most controversial cases due to the uncertainty this exception creates[5] while relying on an unwritten general principle.[6]

Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009, Article 6(1) TEU puts the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union[7] on an equal footing with the TEU and the TFEU.[8] This has raised the question whether an unconditional and sufficiently clear and precise directive can have direct horizontal effect whenever any general principle of EU law, including human rights protection, is sufficiently connected to the application of the respective directive.[9]

As a result, in two recent cases, Kücükdeveci[10] and AMS,[11] the CJEU had to determine whether a directive could be invoked in a dispute between two private parties in conjunction with one the fundamental rights embodied in the Charter.

In Kücükdeveci, an employee who had been dismissed by a German company sought to rely on an EU Directive[12] that prohibited inter alia discrimination on grounds of age.[13]  The CJEU held that Article 21 of the Charter[14] in conjunction with the Directive[15] could be invoked in a dispute between two private parties in order to preclude the application of a national provision.[16]

In AMS, a trade union tried to rely on Article 27 of the Charter in conjunction with an EU Directive[17] that disallowed the exclusion of employees under so called ‘accompanied-employment contracts’ for the purpose of calculating the number of employees necessary to designate a union representative.[18] The CJEU decided that the wording of Article 27 implied that for this article to be fully effective, it must be given more specific expression in European Union or national law[19] because in contrast to Article 21(1) of the Charter, Article 27 was not an “individual right”.[20] 

Analysis

Since the CJEU has not elaborated on the concept behind the term “individual right”, its reasoning might come across as circular, for “individual rights” seem to be just the rights in the Charter which individuals can invoke as such.[21] However, the CJEU was making reference[22] to the Explanations according to which, for the purpose of Article 51(1), “individual rights” of the Charter are the one and only antonym to “principles”.[23]

The following analysis will use the three classical methods of interpretation: literal, contextual and teleological interpretation[24] to shed light on how an “individual right” can be distinguished from a “principle”. It is submitted, that a distinction on the basis of the “lex specialis derogat legi generali”  doctrine,[25] which stipulates that when two or more norms deal with the same subject matter, priority should be given to the norm that is more specific,[26] seems most promising in relation to the rights in the TEU and TFEU. According to Article 52(2) of the Charter, rights for whh provision is made in the TEU and TFEU shall only be exercised within the limits defined by those Treaties without any widening or reduction of their scope.[27] As a result, if an individual can invoke a right in the Treaties as such, the same must apply to the corresponding right in the Charter. Moreover, the substantive guarantees inherent in Treaty rights can often be formulated in terms of fundamental rights,[28] while the respective fundamental rights will usually protect only a specific field of the Treaty rights’ scope in a given case.[29] Consequently, fundamental rights which ensure as lex specialis “individual rights” in the Treaties can be invoked as such as well.

  1. Literal interpretation

The CJEU based its classification of Article 27 as a “principle” in AMS on a literal interpretation. The Article states that workers “are guaranteed information and consultation in good time in the cases and under the conditions provided for by Community law and national laws and practices”. On the one hand, it could be argued that the words “conditions provided for by Community law and national laws” indicate that this provision is subject to further specification by EU or domestic law before an individual may invoke it.[30]

On the other hand, Article 16 of the Charter[31] recognises the freedom to conduct a business also only in “accordance with Community law and national laws” and thus, it includes a clause similar to the one in Article 27. In order to achieve a balance between different rights and economic freedoms, the Charter both explicitly mentions the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital and freedom of establishment in the Preamble and recognises in Article 16 specifically a freedom to conduct a business as a fundamental right.[32] Since the creation of Union citizenship “unquestionably” confers “a new individual legal standing on individuals [..]” and “attaches to it the right[s]” to “free movement of workers[33] and the freedom to provide services or the right of establishment”,[34] then consequently, Article 16 of the Charter must have horizontal direct effect in order to maintain the balance.[35] Furthermore, the cases mentioned in the Explanations to Article 16 are themselves “individual rights”.[36] Thus, clauses stating a reservation of a right for further regulation alone – such as the clauses in Articles 27 and 16 of the Charter – do not suffice for a classification as a “principle”.[37]

The difference seems to be here that Article 16 can be seen as lex specialis to the freedoms mentioned in the Preamble and TFEU[38] that have horizontal direct effect, while Article 27 could at most only be lex specialis to Declaration Number 17 Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers[39] which despite it being mentioned in Article 151 TFEU[40] has only the nature of a programme,[41] or to Articles 154 and 155 TFEU[42] which both do not confer rights which can be invoked as such.[43] This reasoning finds support in Article 52(2) of the Charter which states that rights for which provision is made in the Treaties shall be exercised under the conditions and within the limits defined by the TEU and TFEU.

Moreover, one could argue that the heading of Article 27 defines the content of the Article explicitly as a “right”,[44] – which according to Article 52(5) of the Charter is the opposite of a “principle.[45] This is an argument which the Advocate General mentioned in his Opinion,[46] but the CJEU did not follow.

Accordingly, a literal interpretation alone does not suffice for a clear and unambiguous indication of whether an Article is an “individual right” or a “principle”. Thus, it seems necessary to have recourse to other means of interpretation.[47]

  1. Contextual Interpretation

Title IV of the Charter is named “Solidarity”. For this reason, the Advocate General draws the conclusion that this title incorporates mainly social rights and thus, there is a presumption that the fundamental rights in this chapter are “principles”.[48] Accordingly, Article 27 could be distinguished from Article 21 on the basis of the distinction between civil/political rights (negative rights) and social/economic rights (positive rights).[49] However, at the same time the Explanations list Articles 33[50] and 34[51] in Title IV as examples of both “individual rights” and “principles”.[52] Therefore, the fundamental rights summarised by the term “Solidarity” are neither exclusively “individual rights” nor “principles”.[53]

Furthermore, Article 33 specifies Articles 7[54] and 9[55] of the Charter in context of economic and social protection domains.[56] The EU has recognised the importance of ensuring the protection of family life of nationals of the Member States in order to eliminate obstacles to the exercise of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by TEU and TFEU.[57]  The same kind of reasoning can be applied to Article 21 of the Charter in regard to discrimination on the grounds of age. Such discrimination would undermine the four freedoms in the TFEU and Article 19 TFEU then plays its allotted part by recognising explicitly certain specific types of discrimination.[58]

Due to its limit to people residing and moving legally within the European Union, Article 34(2) can be seen as lex specialis to Article 21(2) of the Charter and as the case may be to Article 21 TFEU,[59] the latter having unquestionably horizontal direct effect.[60]

 

  1. Teleological Interpretation

a. The Preamble

The aim of the Charter is most notably to make EU fundamental rights more visible to citizens.[61] With that said, particular importance should be attached to the wording of the respective right’s heading. The heading – as a summary – is especially suitable for conveying an idea about the substantive content of the fundamental right to EU citizens. However, the CJEU has rejected an interpretation on the basis of the heading.

Nevertheless, as shown in respect to Article 16, the Preamble connects fundamental rights in the Charter to freedoms or rights with horizontal direct effect in other treaties to which the Charter rights may be lex specialis to.

b. Connection to the Directive

Furthermore, the words “making those rights more visible” in the Charter’s Preamble suggest that the fundamental rights in the Charter must have existed already, even before Article 6(1) TEU put the Charter on equal level with the Treaties in 2009 because otherwise these rights cannot be made “more visible” as EU primary law. The Directives at issue in AMS[62] are specific expressions of information and consultation of workers with the result that the telos of Article 27 could be seen in the integration of these Directives into the Charter.[63]

Unlike all other clauses in the Charter that are indicating the reservation of a right for further regulation[64] that are limited to the phrase “in accordance with Community law and national laws and practices”, the clause in Article 27 mentions only “the cases and […] conditions provided for by Community law and national laws and practices”. The difference in the wording suggests that the purpose of Article 27 is to integrate the Directives into the Charter because the relevant “conditions” and specific “cases” are to be found in the very Directives[65].  Therefore, the telos suggests that the conditions are already specified and an individual should be able to rely on Article 27 in conjunction with the provisions of the Directive.

Yet the CJEU has implicitly rejected this method of distinction in AMS because of the wording of Article 27 and no indications to the contrary in the Explanations.[66] It is submitted that this shows that the wording (Article 16: “freedom”,[67] Article 21: “discrimination”[68]) or the Explanations (Articles 16, 33 and 34) can indicate a reference to a more general “individual right” in the Treaties.

Conclusion

This analysis has shown that the CJEU has not yet developed a concrete method of distinguishing “individual rights” from “principles”. A distinction on the basis of the “lex specialis derogat legi generali” doctrine in regard to “individual rights” in the Treaties appears to be most promising.

__

[1] Case C-176/12 Association de médiation sociale v Union locale des syndicats CGT [2014] ECR 0, para 36

[2] Case C-41/74 Yvonne van Duyn v Home Office [1974] ECR 1337, para 13; even though, the CJEU has never explicitly precluded the possibility of horizontal direct effect: cf. Rudolf Streinz/Christoph Herrmann, ‘Der Fall Mangold – eine „kopernikanische Wende im Europarecht”?’ (2007) Recht der Arbeit 165, 167 f.

[3] Case C-148/78 Criminal proceedings against Tullio Ratti [1979] ECR 1629, para 43

[4] Case C-144/04 Werner Mangold v Rüdiger Helm [2005] ECR I-9981, para 78

[5] Albertina Albors-Llorens, ‘The direct effect of EU Directives: fresh controversy or a storm in a teacup? Comment on Portgas’ (2014) 39(6) European Law Review 851, 862

[6] Christopher Unseld, ‘Mangold at its limits: Horizontal effect of EU fundamental rights’ (2014) VerfBlog, http://www.verfassungsblog.de/en/mangold-hat-grenzen-zur-horizontalwirkung-von-eu-grundrechten/ accessed 15 May 2015

[7] Hereafter “Charter”

[8] Koen Lenaerts, ‘Exploring the limits of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights’ (2012) 8(3) European Constitutional Law Review 375, 376

[9] Steve Peers, ‘Supremacy, equality and human rights: comment on Kucukdeveci’ (C-555/07)’ (2010) 35(6) European Law Review 849, 856

[10] Case C-555/07 Seda Kücükdeveci v Swedex GmbH & Co. KG [2010] ECR 00

[11] Case C-176/12 Association de médiation sociale v Union locale des syndicats CGT [2014] ECR 0

[12] Directive 2000/78/EC

[13] Kücükdeveci, para 15

[14] Non-discrimination

  1. Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin,

genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national

minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.

  1. Within the scope of application of the Treaties and without prejudice to any of their specific

provisions, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.

[15] Directive 2000/78/EC

[16] AMS para 41

[17] Directive 2002/14/EC

[18] AMS para 22. Charter, Article 27, ‘Workers or their representatives must, at the appropriate levels, be guaranteed information and consultation in good time in the cases and under the conditions provided for by Union law and national laws and practices.’.

[19] AMS para 45

[20] ibid para 49

[21] Christopher Unseld, ‘Mangold at its limits: Horizontal effect of EU fundamental rights’ (2014) VerfBlog, http://www.verfassungsblog.de/en/mangold-hat-grenzen-zur-horizontalwirkung-von-eu-grundrechten/ accessed 15 May 2015

[22] AMS, para 46

[23] Explanations relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights (2007/C 303/02), pg 35

[24] Koen Lenaerts/José A. Gutiérrez-Fons, ‘To Say What the Law of the EU Is: Methods of Interpretation and the European Court of Justice’ (2013)  EUI Working Paper AEL 2013/9, 4 http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/28339/AEL_2013_09_DL.pdf?sequence=1 accessed 15 May 2015

[25] Cf. Also: Martin Borowsky, Meyer: Charta der Grundrechte der Europäischen Union‘, (‘Charta Artikel 52 Tragweite und Auslegung der Rechte und Grundsätze‘ 4th edn, Nomos 2014) para 45d who suggests a distinction on the basis of the proximity to human dignity and lex specialis.

[26] Cf. “Conclusions of the work of the Study Group on the Fragmentation of International Law: Difficulties arising from the Diversification and Expansion of International Law” (2006), para 5

[27] Koen Learts/ Eddy de Smijter, ’A “Bill” of Rights’ for the European Union’ (2001) 38 Common Market Law Review 273, 282

[28] Verica Trstenjak/Erwin Beysen, ‘The growing overlap of fundamental freedoms and fundamental rights in the case-law of the CJEU’ (2013) 38(3) European Law Review 293, 312 and fn. 100; Vassilios Skouris, ‘Das Verhältnis der Grundfreiheiten zu den Gemeinschaftsgrundrechten’ (2009) Recht der Arbeit – Beilage 25, 30

[29] Cf. Walter Frenz, ‘Grundfreiheiten und Grundrechte‘ (2002) Europarecht 603, 613 ff.

[30] Walter Frenz/Vera Götzkes, ‘Ein europäisches Grundrecht der Arbeitnehmerinnen und Arbeitnehmer auf Unterrichtung und Anhörung im Unternehmen? – Zur rechtsdogmatischen Einordnung von Art. 27 EGRC‘ (2007) Recht der Arbeit 216, 217

[31] Freedom to conduct a business

The freedom to conduct a business in accordance with Union law and national laws and practices is recognised.

[32] Lord Goldsmith, ‘A Charter of Rights, Freedoms and Principles’ (2001), 38 Common Market Law Review 1201, 1213 (UK representative to the convention drafting the Charter in 1999 and 2000)

[33] Cf. also Case C–281/98 Angonese [2000] ECR I–4139, para 35

[34] Case C-85/96 María Martínez Sala v Freistaat Bayern [1998] ECR I-2691, Opinion of AG Antonio Mario La Pergola, para 20

[35] Hans Jarass, Charta der Grundrechte der EU, (‘EU-GRCharta Art. 52 Tragweite und Auslegung der Rechte und Grundsätze‘, 2nd edn, CH Beck 2013) para 72

[36] Hans Jarass, Charta der Grundrechte der EU, (‘EU-GRCharta Art. 16 Unternehmerische Freiheit‘, 2nd edn, CH Beck 2013) para 2

[37] Hans Jarass, Charta der Grundrechte der EU, (‘EU-GRCharta Art. 52 Tragweite und Auslegung der Rechte und Grundsätze‘, 2nd edn, CH Beck 2013) para 72

[38] Cf. Article 26(2) TFEU; Free movement of goods (Articles 28-30, 34-35, 110 TFEU), persons (Articles 20, 21, 45, 49, 54, TFEU), services (Article 56 TFEU) and capital (Article 63 TFEU); Catherine Barnard, ‘Competence Review: the internal market’ (2013) commissioned by BIS as part of its balance of competence review, 3f. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226863/bis-13-1064-competence-review-internal-market.pdf accessed 23 May 2015

[39] Beate Rudolf, Meyer: Charta der Grundrechte der Europäischen Union (‘Charta Artikel 27 Recht auf Unterrichtung und Anhörung der Arbeitnehmerinnen und Arbeitnehmer im Unternehmen‘, 4th edn, Nomos 2014)  para 1; Hans Jarass, Charta der Grundrechte der EU, (‘EU-GRCharta Art. 27 Recht auf Unterrichtung und Anhörung der Arbeitnehmerinnen und Arbeitnehmer im Unternehmen‘, 2nd edn, CH Beck 2013) para 1

[40] Case C-313/02 Nicole Wippel v Peek &amp Cloppenburg GmbH &amp Co. KG [2004] ECR I-948, Opinion of AG Juliane Kokott, para 37 ff. in regard to 136 EC

[41] Case C-72/91 Firma Sloman Neptun Schiffahrts AG v Seebetriebsrat Bodo Ziesemer [1993] ECR I-887, para 26

[42] Explanations relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights (2007/C 303/02), pg. 26

[43] In regard to Article 154 TFEU see: Eberhard Eichenhofer, Streinz: EUV/AEUV (Art. 154 (ex-Art. 138 EGV) [Anhörung der Sozialpartner]’, 2nd edn. C.H. Beck 2012) para 4;  in regard to Article 155 TFEU see: Koen Lenaerts, ‘The principle of democracy in the case law of the European Court of Justice’ (2013) 62(2) International & Comparative Law Quarterly 271, 299

[44] Hans Jarass, Charta der Grundrechte der EU, (‘EU-GRCharta – Art. 27 Recht auf Unterrichtung und Anhörung der Arbeitnehmerinnen und Arbeitnehmer im Unternehmen‘, 2nd edn, CH Beck 2013) para 3

[45] Jan Bergmann, Renner/Bergmann/Dienelt: Ausländerrecht, (‘EU-Grundrechte-Charta Art. 27 Recht auf Unterrichtung und Anhörung der Arbeitnehmerinnen und Arbeitnehmer im Unternehmen‘, 10th edn, 2013 CH BeckAuflage, 2013) para 1

[46] Case C-176/12 Association de médiation sociale v Union locale des syndicats CGT [2014] ECR 0, Opinion of AG Pedro Cruz Villalón, para 40

[47] Koen Lenaerts/José A. Gutiérrez-Fons, ‘To Say What the Law of the EU Is: Methods of Interpretation and the European Court of Justice’ (2013)  EUI Working Paper AEL 2013/9, 47 http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/28339/AEL_2013_09_DL.pdf?sequence=1 accessed 15 May 2015

[48] Case C-176/12 Association de médiation sociale v Union locale des syndicats CGT [2014] ECR 0, Opinion of AG Pedro Cruz Villalón, para 55

[49] Cian C. Murphy, ‘Using the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights against private parties after Association de Mediation Sociale’ (2014) 2 European Human Rights Law Review 170, 175

[50] Family and professional life

[51] Social security and social assistance

[52] Explanations relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights (2007/C 303/02), pg. 35; Cian C. Murphy, ‘Using the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights against private parties after Association de Mediation Sociale’ (2014) 2 European Human Rights Law Review 170, 175

[53] Walter Frenz/Vera Götzkes, ‘Ein europäisches Grundrecht der Arbeitnehmerinnen und Arbeitnehmer auf Unterrichtung und Anhörung im Unternehmen? – Zur rechtsdogmatischen Einordnung von Art. 27 EGRC‘ (2007) Recht der Arbeit 216, 217 f.

[54] Respect for private and family life

Everyone has the right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and communications.

[55] Right to marry and right to found a family

The right to marry and the right to found a family shall be guaranteed in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of these rights.

[56] Beate Rudolf, Meyer: Charta der Grundrechte der Europäischen Union (‘Charta Artikel 33 Familien- und Berufsleben ‘, 4th edn, Nomos 2014)  para 13

[57] Case C-60/00 Mary Carpenter v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2002] ECR I-6279, para 38; Case C-441/02 Commission of the European Communities v Federal Republic of Germany [2006] ECR I-3449, para 109

[58] Case C-427/06 Birgit Bartsch v Bosch und Siemens Hausgeräte (BSH) Altersfürsorge GmbH [2008] ECR I-7245 Opinion of AG Eleanor Sharpston, paras 58 f.

[59] Hans Jarass, Charta der Grundrechte der EU, (‘EU-GRCharta Art. 34 Soziale Sicherheit und soziale Unterstützung‘, 2nd edn, CH Beck 2013) para 15 citing Case C-135/99 Ursula Elsen v Bundesversicherungsanstalt für Angestellte [2000] ECR I-10409, para 36 in support

[60] Case C–281/98 Angonese [2000] ECR I–4139, para 35

[61] Paragraph 4 of the Preamble of the Charter; Cian C. Murphy, ‘Using the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights against private parties after Association de Mediation Sociale’ (2014) 2 European Human Rights Law Review 170, 177; Jürgen Meyer, Meyer: Charta der Grundrechte der Europäischen Union, (‘Präambel’, 4th edn, Nomos 2014) para 43

[62] 2002/14/EC, 1998/59/EC, 2001/23/EC and 1994/45/EC

[63] Walter Frenz/Vera Götzkes, ‘Ein europäisches Grundrecht der Arbeitnehmerinnen und Arbeitnehmer auf Unterrichtung und Anhörung im Unternehmen? – Zur rechtsdogmatischen Einordnung von Art. 27 EGRC‘ (2007) Recht der Arbeit 216, 218

[64] Such as Articles 16, 28, 30, 34(1), 34(2) and 34(3) of the Charter

[65] 2002/14/EC, 1998/59/EC, 2001/23/EC and 1994/45/EC

[66] AMS, para 45 f.

[67] Freedom to conduct a business / “four freedoms” in the TFEU

[68] Cf. for example the importance of ”non-discrimination” in regard to the four freedoms in Case C-8/74 Procureur du Roi v Dassonville v S. A. ETS Fourcroy and S. A. Breuval et Cie, Civil Parties [1974] 2 CMLR 436, para  7