My research project relates to whether fundamental human rights are effectively recognised and protected by the European Court of Justice(ECJ), in the European Union’s(EU) internal market and legal order. More specifically, my research seeks to assess the relationship between fundamental human rights(FHR) and the fundamental economic freedoms(FEF) when the two come into conflict.
FEFs, were considered as foundational values of the EU since its creation, establishing free movement within the Union. Through these, the main aim of creating an internal market, which would lead to economic integration across the EU, was achieved. Conversely, until the Lisbon Treaty of 2009, FHR were simply recognised by the ECJ as general principles of law. Subsequently to Lisbon, the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights (2000) was declared as legally binding and FHR were included among the foundational values of the EU. Therefore, since both FEF and FHR are foundational principles, they could potentially come into conflict in cases before the ECJ and raise the question as to which and if one should prevail.
Through the adoption of a doctrinal approach, i.e. an evaluation of the legal framework found in the Treaties and the case-law of the European Court of Justice(ECJ), relating to this conflict, will be conducted. Through this, I intend to investigate whether the new status of FHR has enhanced their protection in EU law, especially when in conflict with FEFs. I aim to analyse whether the way in which the ECJ deals with conflict cases is appropriate and whether through its rulings a hierarchy emerges, not only between these two principles, but also between the various human rights protected in the Charter. For instance, could it be legally justified for the ECJ to rule one human right as more important than another one? If so, might the perceived superior right be protected when in conflict with an economic freedom, whereas that freedom would prevail over the less important right?
Moreover, in cases where FHR may have been protected, it is vital to examine whether such protection was afforded for their own sake, or for the protection of other - potentially more economic - motives. This analysis will link to the exploration of what the EU’s aims are today and if and how they have changed since the EU’s creation. For instance, do they remain mainly economic or is the modern EU equally concerned with social matters, such as ensuring effective human rights protection? An answer to this question will also be relevant to whether it would be legally justifiable and moral for a FEF to prevail over a FHR and vice versa. This will reinforce the originality of my thesis, since most commentators have not made a connection between the EU’s aims and the relationship of the two principles. Instead, they have either focused only on the aims or on the relationship of the two principles.
Hence, in addition to making an original contribution to the existing knowledge, I also aspire to bring a change through this research. Thus, as the above unanswered queries illustrate the state of uncertainty this area of law is in, I also intend to adopt a prescriptive approach. This will offer suggestions as to how conflict cases could be dealt with more effectively by the ECJ, with a view of enhancing legal certainty, which will hopefully ensure effective FHR protection for EU citizens.