EU Treaties Must Comply with the Principles of the Rule of Law and Human Rights

In its judgment of 14 June 2016, the Grand Chamber of the CJEU (European Parliament and Commission v. Council) stated that the provisions of the EU-Tanzania Agreement concerning the transfer of pirates by the European Union to Tanzanian authorities must comply with the principles of the rule of law and human rights, as well as the respect for human dignity, since “such compliance is required of all actions of the European Union, including those in the area of the [Common Foreign and Security Policy].” (para. 47).

Article 21(1) of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) asserts that the “Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.”

Article 21(2) TEU requires further that the EU “shall … work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order [ inter alia] to “strengthen international security, in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, … foster the sustainable economic, social and environmental development of developing countries, with the primary aim of eradicating poverty; encourage the integration of all countries into the world economy, … help develop international measures to preserve and improve the quality of the environment and the sustainable management of global natural resources, in order to ensure sustainable development… assist populations, countries and regions confronting natural or man-made disasters; and… promote an international system based on stronger multilateral cooperation and good global governance.”

Article 21(3) TEU instructs the EU to respect those principles and pursue those objectives “in the development and implementation of the different areas of the Union’s external action.” The Article refers to Part Five of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which sets forth the procedures for negotiating and concluding international agreements.

Article 23 TEU concerning Common Foreign and Security Policy stipulates that “the Union’s action on the international scene …  shall be guided by the principles, shall pursue the objectives of, and be conducted in accordance with, the general provisions laid down in Chapter 1.” Chapter  1 includes Article 21 mentioned above, and therefore, as affirmed by the CJEU, agreements in the area of Common Foreign and Security Policy must also comply with those principles.

Moreover, Article 208 (TFEU) stipulates that EU “policy in the field of development cooperation shall be conducted within the framework of the principles and objectives of the Union’s external action” and that this policy “shall have as its primary objective the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty. The Union shall take account of the objectives of development cooperation in the policies that it implements which are likely to affect developing countries.”

For more on these external obligations of the EU see Lorand Bartels, The EU’s Human Rights Obligations in Relation to Policies with Extraterritorial Effects, 25  European Journal of International Law 1071 (2014) and Lorand Bartels, Policy Coherence for Development under Article 208 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, University of Cambridge Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 18/2016