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Consumer Protection in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights

The 1957 Treaty of Rome did not include provisions on the protection of fundamental rights as it focused mainly on economic integration. EU fundamental rights appeared first as general principles of law, owing to the judicial activism of the European Court ofJustice, and were then strengthened in the Treaty of Maastricht. Eventually, in 2000, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights was adopted, listing the fundamental rights recognized by the European Union, and containing important provisions that could improve consumer protection.

The creation and the aim of the Charter of Fundamental Rights

The place given to fundamental rights in the European Union has changed considerably since the founding Treaties, which did not mention them explicitly. However, as economic integration progressed, pressure has been brought to bear on the European Community to adopt a human rights dimension to its activities.

Since 1969 the ECJ has gradually developed fundamental rights, recognizing them as general principles of Community law and actively protecting them.[1] Through its case law, the Court gradually established what effectively amounts to an unwritten charter of rights for the Community.44 This favourable human rights interpretation found formal recognition in Article F(2)45 of the Maastricht Treaty, which explicitly mentioned that: ‘The Union shall respect fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms signed in Rome on 4 November 1950 and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, as general principles of Community law’. Subsequently, the Treaty of Amsterdam reaffirmed the respect for fundamental rights. Article 6(1) TEU stated that: ‘The Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States’. Nevertheless, a detailed catalogue of human rights provided by a charter was still missing.46 According to some, the creation of fundamental rights by the ECJ did not ensure sufficient transparency and was unlikely to increase public confidence in the EU.47 A unique charter was necessary to ensure that fundamental rights were given an explicit and precise role in the EU legal system.48

As a first step in this direction, the European Parliament (EP) issued a ‘Declaration of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms’ in April 1989, as part of a ‘Constitution’ for the Communities.49 This Declaration contained a comprehensive list of fundamental rights, from social rights to other ‘classic’ rights. Article 24 integrated several Community policies, such as the protection of the environment, of consumers, and of health. Although this document was

N. J.S. Lockhart, 4 Taking Rights Seriously: The European Court and its Fundamental Rights Jurisprudence’, (1995) 32 CML Rev., pp. 51-94.

  • 44 See e.g. Case C-4/73, Nold v European Commission [1974] ECR 491.
  • 45 With the adoption of the Amsterdam Treaty this provision became Art. 6(2) TEU.
  • 46 G. de Burca, ‘The Drafting of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights’, (2001) 26 Eur. L. Rev. , pp. 126 et seq.
  • 47 Criticism came particularly from Italy and Germany, which have a tradition of strict fundamental rights scrutiny: T. von Danwitz, ‘The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU: Between Political Symbolism and Legal Realism’ , (2001) Denver J. Law and Policy, p. 2; A. Adinolfi,

‘The Judicial Application of Community Law in Italy (1981-1997)’, (1998) 35 CML Rev., p. 1313, at 1323.

  • 48 Report of the Expert Group on Fundamental Rights, Affirming Fundamental Rights in the European Union (n 2).
  • 49 In 1977, the EP adopted the Joint Declaration on Human Rights, which was extended in
  • 1989 by a Declaration of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. See also R. Bieber, K. de Gucht, K. Lenaerts, & J.H.H. Weiler (eds), Au nom des peoples —in the name of the peoples of Europe
  • (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1996), p. 365.

adopted in neither the Treaty of Maastricht nor the Treaty of Amsterdam as intended by the European Parliament, it represented an important step, because it was an expression of the popular will of European citizens.

This attention to human rights protection was revived 10 years later at the 1990 European Council of Cologne, when the Member States decided to create a Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The Charter was eventually signed on 7 December 2000 at the European Council of Nice, and contained a catalogue of fundamental rights.[2] This catalogue was inspired by various legal sources: national constitutional traditions, the European Social Charter, the Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, and the case law of the ECJ.

  • [1] See e.g. Case C-29/69, Stauder v City of Ulm [1969] ECR 419; Case C-11/70, InternationaleHandelsgesellschaft v Einfuhr-und Vorratsstelle, [1970] ECR 1125; see more on this in. J.H.H. Weiler &
  • [2] Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union [2000] OJ C/364/1, proclaimed in Nice on 7 December 2000; see more on the Charter in J.-F. Renucci, Droit des droits de Phomme, 3rd edn (Paris: LGDJ, 2002), p. 450.
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