When is the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights applicable at national level?
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Whilst the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which became part of binding primary EU law on 1 December 2009, constitutes an important codification and clarification of fundamental rights as they exist in the European Union, the field of application of the Charter is limited in a significant way: the Charter only applies when EU law is at stake. When national courts and authorities in the EU Member States are confronted with problems of purely national law, they are not obliged to apply the Charter but should instead rely on the national constitutional Bill of Rights as well as the international human rights instruments which are binding on the Member State in question. The borderline between EU law and national law is not always easy to establish in a concrete case. This article discusses theoretical and practical problems arising out of the application and interpretation of Article 51(1) of the Charter, according to which the Charter is addressed to the Member States ‘only when they are implementing Union law’. It is suggested to adopt a pragmatic case-by-case approach, asking oneself if there is another norm of Union law than a Charter provision which is directly relevant to a case in concreto. If the answer is yes, also the Charter should be applied, supposing that there is a Charter provision which could influence the outcome of the case. If the answer is in the negative, national courts and authorities are only obliged to apply national law, including the constitutional Bill of Rights and the international human rights obligations of the Member State concerned.
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