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EU: Membership

House of Lords written question – answered on 8th June 2011.

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Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether membership of the European Union is conditional upon adherence to all articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy)

There is no legal requirement in the EU treaties for EU member states to be parties to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and therefore no legal requirement in the EU treaties for them to adhere to all the articles of the ECHR, to the extent that those articles do not also separately form general principles of EU law. Indeed, EU member states have at times derogated from some of the articles of the ECHR and have not been subject to infraction proceedings under EU law for doing so. Similarly, it is a matter for each of the 47 contracting parties to the ECHR to decide for itself whether to ratify the optional protocols to the ECHR, though all those contracting parties that are also EU member states have ratified Protocols 1 and 6.

However, the EU treaties are clear that any state wishing to become a member of the EU must be committed to promoting the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities (Article 2 TEU).

For current EU member states, Article 6(3) of the Treaty on European Union provides that fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the ECHR and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the member states, constitute general principles of EU law. In addition, the Charter of Fundamental Rights has the same legal value as the EU treaties and brings together a number of existing rights and principles, including those enunciated in the ECHR. In practice, therefore, membership of the EU (for applicants and current member states alike) requires adherence to the ECHR, when acting within the scope of EU law.

Furthermore, where the European Council determines the existence of a serious and persistent breach by a member state of the values in Article 2 TEU, the procedures in Article 7 TEU may apply for a decision on suspension of rights deriving from the application of the treaties to that member state. The values referred to in Article 2 TEU include respect for human rights.

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