EU Values and Constitutional Pluralism: The EU System of Fundamenta Rights Protection
Divisions of PAS
This article seeks to explore whether the EU system of fundamental rights protection allows room for constitutional pluralism. By looking at recent developments in the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (the Court of Justice), it is submitted that the Court has answered that question in the affirmative, thereby respecting the diversity of the cultures and traditions of the peoples of Europe as well as their national identities. The application of the Charter does not rule out a cumulative application of fundamental rights. That being said, pluralism is not absolute, but must be weighed against the indivisible and universal values on which the European Union is founded. Logically, the question that arises is how we order pluralism. In this regard, I shall argue that it is not for the Court of Justice to decide when an EU uniform standard of fundamental rights protection is to replace (or coexist with) national standards. That decision is for the EU political institutions to adopt, since they enjoy the necessary democratic legitimacy to determine the circumstances under which the exercise of a fundamental right is to be limited for reasons of public interest. However, this deference to the EU political branches does not mean that EU legislative decisions are immune from judicial review. On the contrary, cases such as Schwarz and Digital Rights demonstrate that the Court of Justice is firmly committed to examining whether those legislative choices comply with primary EU law, and notably with the Charter. In this regard, when interpreting the provisions of the Charter, the Court of Justice – in dialogue with national courts and, in particular, constitutional courts – operates as the guarantor of the rule of law within the EU, of which fundamental rights are part and parcel. It is thus for those courts to make sure that each and every EU citizen enjoys a sphere of individual liberty which must, as defined by the Charter, remain free from public interferences.