Sixth Webinar of the ELI Charter of Fundamental Constitutional Principles Series


On 16 May, experts convened to discuss the Part VI of the ELI Charter, on Protection of Fundamental Rights.

Pascal Pichonnaz (ELI President; Professor, University of Fribourg) opened the webinar by welcoming participants and recalling aspects of the previous webinars in the series. He considered the current webinar a ‘further opportunity to reflect and discuss the impact and the role of proper and encompassing protection of fundamentals rights’.

Project Co-Reporter, Elise Muir (Professor, KU Leuven) reflected on the broad range of challenges that Europe currently faces. She explained that the ELI recognised the present moment as opportune to reassess, and take a forward-looking approach to, the core principles of European democracies.

Having acknowledged that some parts of the Charter overlap, Muir went on to detail each Principle to be dealt with in the present webinar:

  • Protection of Fundamental Rights (Principle 27)
  • The application to private parties of the obligation to respect fundamental rights (Principle 28)
  • Environmental protection and sustainability (Principle 29)
  • Right to international protection (Principle 30)
  • Social solidarity (Principle 31)
  • Automated decision-making (Principle 32)

Geert van Calster (Professor, KU Leuven) focused on Principle 29, on environmental protection and sustainability. Among other things, he highlighted failures to direct legislation to adequately address environmental and sustainability issues as very clear. Van Calster commended ELI’s plausible efforts in drafting the Principles and how they can be operationalised. He highlighted the fact that the construction of Principle 29 is different from its counterpart in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Unlike the TFEU, this Principle is not immediately tied to a series of limitations. Instead, it encompasses a broader scope, addressing not only  environmental protection but also the promotion of sustainable development. This ELI Principle is built on  three pillars: environmental protection, economic development and social development. Furthermore, Van Calster praised the inclusion of a message advocating international cooperation in achieving common standards for sustainability and environmental protection. However, Van Calster also noted that while coordination among states is essential, it might sometimes be used as ‘an excuse for slowing down international efforts’.

Catherine Koutsopoulou (Vice-President of the International Association of Refugee and Migration Judges) stated that the Charter ‘will be a piece of reference for all of us’. Koutsopoulou discussed significant  challenges related to migration and its prominence in current political and legal debates. Judge Koutsopoulou argued that  the right of asylum should be embedded in national constitutions, which would make it harder for  nationalist and extremist movements to undermine this right, while also upholding humanitarian values and fulfilling international obligations. Reflecting on Principle 30, she praised its ‘comprehensive’ construction, noting that it incorporates elements from international legal instruments such as the Geneva Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Koutsopoulou emphasised that the Principle is  grounded in fundamental rights and noted the key concept of non-refoulement, which prohibits returning refugees to places where they face serious harm.  Judge Koutsopoulou recommended an ‘expressis verbis acknowledgement of broader norms of international protection’ and stressed the importance of state obligations to support the long-term wellbeing and integration of refugees. She also advocated for a broader definition of ‘refugee’ in national constitutions.

Maja Brkan (Judge, General Court of the European Union; Professor, University of Maastricht) provided reflections on  Principle 32 on automated decision-making (ADM). Brkan noted that this principle is cross-cutting, intersecting with the other Principles analysed earlier. Judge Brkan argued that the level of protection and safeguards for ADM should be higher, as the current safeguards are insufficient. She emphasised that these safeguards should be integrated into the decision-making process from the outset. Judge Brkan referenced EU legislation, noting that the ‘ELI Principles go further’ in terms of accountability for decision-making and the transparency aspect, compared to the Artificial Intelligence Act. Brkan emphasised the need for robust safeguards to ensure transparency and accountability in ADM processes.

The interventions were followed by lively discussions.

More information about the project is available here.


Other webinars in the series: