The importance of aligning the EU with human rights has been a topic of discussion of varied intensity for a long time. The need for it is obvious today but has been a subject of attention since the late 1970s, even before the formal creation of the European Union as we know it today. Formal and informal talks on how to achieve the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) did take place both within the predecessor entity to the EU and the Council of Europe already in the late 1970s.
The issue was brought to the forefront once again with the adoption of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights (7 December 2000).
With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty (1 December 2009) and of Protocol 14 to the ECHR (1 June 2010), the accession has no longer been merely a wish; it has become a legal obligation under Article 6(2).
The purpose of the EU’s accession to the ECHR is to contribute to creating a single European legal space, achieving a coherent framework of human rights protection throughout Europe.
The accession, however, is not as simple as it has been for the existing 47 European states who have acceded to the ECHR system so far. The EU is a non-state entity with a specific and complex legal system, unlike that of a national state. For the EU to acceed to the ECHR, some adjustments to the ECHR system are necessary.
The work to identify and solve the legal and technical issues that would have to be addressed by the Council of Europe, in the event of the envisioned accession by the EU to the ECHR, as well as of the means to avoid any contradiction between the legal system of the EU and that of the ECHR, was started in 2001.
Work and negotiations resumed in 2019, at the request of the EU Commission, after five years of a halt of the process. Since then, seven meetings have been held by the Council of Europe ad hoc negotiation group composed of representatives of the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe and representatives of the European Union (“47+1”). The last meeting was held from 7-10 December 2021.
When the EU will have acceded to the ECHR, it will be integrated into the fundamental rights protection system of the ECHR. In addition to the internal protection of these rights by the EU law and the Court of Justice, the EU will be bound to respect the ECHR and will be placed under the external control of the European Court of Human Rights.
The accession will also enhance the credibility of the EU in the eyes of third countries, which the EU regularly calls upon, in its bilateral relations, to respect the ECHR.