The European Union (EU) is founded on the principles of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights and the principle of the rule of law. EU policy is therefore to respect, protect and promote human rights.
Criteria for EU membership
The EU has 27 Member States, all of which must have a stable functioning democracy and rule of law, respect human rights and guarantee the protection of minorities. Applicant countries are also required to fulfil these criteria before the EU is prepared to initiate accession negotiations.
The Treaty of Lisbon and the Charter of Fundamental Rights
The EU’s heads of state and government signed a reform treaty in Lisbon on 13 December 2007. The Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on 1 December 2009 after being ratified by all Member States.
Under this Treaty, the Charter of Fundamental Rights adopted in 2000 as a political declaration is now legally binding. The Charter addresses civil, political, economic and social rights.
Moreover, the Treaty of Lisbon paves the way for the EU as a union to accede to the European Convention of Human Rights of the Council of Europe.
Learn more about the Treaty of Lisbon
Learn more about the Charter of Fundamental Rights
Human rights in the EU’s common foreign policy
The EU aims to be an influential voice in the UN and other international forums where human rights are discussed.
Opinion-forming, participation in international standard-setting functions and dialogue with other states on human rights issues are important elements in the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
Issues concerning human rights receive particular attention and are pointed out in the day-to-day work of the EU. This can apply to the general human rights situation in a country or individual cases, such as protests against deprivation of liberty on political grounds.
European Union Guidelines on Human Rights
The Union has drawn up guidelines for a series of human rights-related issues, including the death penalty, torture, children in situations of armed conflict, rights of the child, violence against women and protection of human rights defenders.
The guidelines specify the conditions for joint action and enable Member States to rapidly agree on statements or representations in a certain country. Representations can be either general in nature or case related.
Read the European Union Guidelines on Human Rrights
Human rights dialogues
Since the mid-1990s, the EU has chosen to initiate separate human rights dialogues at expert level. Some 40 countries are today conducting such EU dialogues. Political dialogue meetings between EU representatives and the relative ministries in the dialogue countries take place every six months. These are supplemented by meetings between academic experts and organisations in the EU and counterparts in the dialogue countries to deepen discussions while simultaneously broadening the interface between the countries in terms of human rights issues.
Separate human rights dialogues foster greater focus in the discussions, while asserting the importance the EU ascribes to human rights issues. However, separate human rights dialogues do not replace other discussions about human rights within the framework of the general dialogue conducted with countries at different political levels.