Although all EU member states are parties to the European Convention on Human Rights, the EU itself has not yet acceded to what is widely recognised as the most important human rights instrument in Europe. It has been, however, the long-held ambition of the EU to join the Convention. With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, this ambition turned into a legal requirement according to Article 6(2) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) which holds the following:
Why is the accession of the EU to the Convention so important?
The accession will strengthen the protection of human rights in Europe by submitting the Union’s legal system to independent external control. Any individual will then be able to bring a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights if their fundamental rights and freedoms, guaranteed by the ECHR, are violated by the EU. All EU institutions and bodies, agencies, offices and entities acting on behalf of the EU will be bound by the Convention´s human rights provisions. This will further enhance human rights protection in the EU´s areas of competence.
It will also result in all European legal systems, both at national and EU level, being subjected to the same supervision concerning the protection of human rights. Furthermore, it will reassure citizens that the EU, just like its member States, is not ‘above the law’ as far as human rights are concerned. This is a question of credibility, given that EU member States have transferred important competences to the Union and that ratification of the ECHR is a condition for EU membership.
A draft Accession Agreement of the EU to the Convention was finalised between the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe and the EU. However, accession was blocked in 2014 following the negative opinion of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on the compatibility of the draft agreement with EU law. In its opinion, the CJEU spelt out certain elements that any draft Accession Agreement would have to take into account in order to be compatible with EU law.
In October 2019, a letter co-signed by the President and the First Vice-President of the European Commission informed the Secretary General of the Council of Europe that the EU stands ready to resume the negotiations. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe approved the continuation of negotiations between the EU and the 47 Member States. The first meetings took place on 29 September - 2 October 2020.
On September, 29th 2020, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pecinovic Buric and the EU Commission's Vice President for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourova, have issued a statement concerning the resumption of the negotiations on the European Union's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.
For further information, please look at the Council of Europe's Questions and Answers section.