EU is based on the principles of democracy within which respect of individual human rights is essential. The fight against discrimination, racism and xenophobia has been put into legal framework and significantly contributes to support activities which are focused on combating these phenomena. Among other initiatives EU leads political dialogues with third countries, actively co-operates with UN, and uses a wide range of financial support, technical cooperation instruments, including bilateral cooperation with governments and direct support to civil society. With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty the promotion and protection of the rights of persons belonging to minorities is embodied in two important documents of EU primary law. More precisely, the Treaty on European Union (“TEU”)[1] and Charter of Fundamental rights (“CFR”) [2].

According to Article 2 TEU: The Union is founded on 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. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail. Article 2 TEU is however of very general character and no precise qualification to the term ‘minorities’ can be found.

Article 3 TEU states that the Union shall combat social exclusion and discrimination, respect its cultural and linguistic diversity, safeguard and enhance Europe’s cultural heritage and shall uphold and promote its values and interests and contribute to the protection of its citizens.

The Treaty also states, in Article 6 TEU, that the Union recognizes the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Article 21 of Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union: 1. Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited. 2. Within the scope of application of the Treaty establishing the European Community and of the Treaty on European Union, and without prejudice to the special provisions of those Treaties, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited. including the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of membership in a national minority”.

Art. 6 (1) TEU states that the Charter of Fundamental Rights ‘shall have the same legal value as the Treaties’. Even though the Member states have agreed on the Charter, it did not become a legally binding treaty; neither has been adopted as EU secondary law. However the Court of Justice has relied on the Charter in support of its arguments.

Legalization of the Charter is important to minorities as it addresses the challenge of double standards, meaning the possibility that Member states and candidate countries are treated differently. One of the preconditions of the accession to the EU, the respect for minorities, is now being complemented with the legalization of the CFR, which prevents minority standards from being lowered after accession to the EU. While Member states are obliged to respect fundamental rights only when acting within the scope of the Union law, the institutions are bound by the Charter under any circumstances.

In non-EU areas, the protection of fundamental rights is entirely up to those states through the application of their own measures and implementation of their international obligations.

However in European area the legal document that specifies the protection of human rights is European Convention on Human rights[3], which is the treaty of international character. Under the jurisdiction of this Treaty persons claiming to be the victims of violation of these rights may apply to the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg. The Convention includes rights to equal treatment and non-discrimination, which may reflect many minority concerns even though does not include specific provisions on minorities.

EU Ombudsman as an example of non-judicial mechanism dealing with human rights is an independent and impartial body, who investigates complaints about maladministration in EU institutions, bodies, offices, and agencies. The Ombudsman acts mainly on the basis of complaints from citizens, but may undertake investigations also on his/her own initiative. The human rights complaints which the Ombudsman receives often focus on questions concerning the right to freedom of expression and non-discrimination.[4]

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