Memorandum by Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne MEP (EU Charter - UNCRC)

14 December 2007

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Select Committee on European Union Written Evidence

Memorandum by Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne MEP


1. I support the Charter of Fundamental Rights as a restatement of the core values of the European Union since its inception.

2. To date, these values have been expressed in the acqui communautaire (chapter on home affairs), which incorporates key United Nations conventions as the foundation stone of the European Union value system, such as the Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labour Organisation Convention and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In addition the European value system is decoded in the European Convention for Human Rights and a subsequent judgement by the European Court of Human Rights on that Convention.

3. The importance of the presence of the UNCRC in the acqui communautaire is exemplified by the 1998 statement of the Council of Ministers that Member States' failure to implement the UNCRC would place them in breach of the Treaty of Rome.

4. The Charter of Fundamental Rights should in my view be strengthened immediately by suitable protocols to bring the relevant UN Conventions inside the Charter which would, inter alia, bring it in line with the acqui communautaire. This would avoid the risk of a mistaken assumption of priority for the Charter over the European Charter of Human Rights (ECHR) or the acqui communautaire.


1. The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights does refer briefly to the rights of children but it fails to acknowledge the substantial United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

2. There are articles in the Charter which do refer specifically to children, most notably Article 24 which is the children's rights article. This is very brief but incorporates some of the more important central principles in the treatment of children, such as a commitment to their welfare as a primary consideration, their right to be heard and their right not to be separated from their parents without good cause.

3. Other articles in the charter are relevant to children. Article 14 (3) refers to parental rights in the context of education, Article 21 prohibits discrimination on account of, inter alia, age and this might be thought to prohibit discrimination against children for that reason (it should however be said that any argument that children should be treated identically to adults would be certain to fail). Then there is Article 32 prohibiting child labour and providing for the protection of children at work and Article 33 which deals with employment protections following the birth of a child.

4. The UNCRC is far wider in terms of its protections and the rights it asserts for children than the articles in the ECHR mentioned above.

5. In the United Kingdom the courts do, at times, make reference to the UNCRC and occasionally it has a significant influence on the outcome of cases, however, usually it does not. This is because when a treaty is not incorporated into domestic law it is nowhere near as effective as when it is. The ECHR in contrast is now part of English law and the decisions of the courts, public bodies and so on have to be compatible with it.

6. The EU Reform Treaty ought to incorporate reference to the UNCRC, or it might miss the occasion to strengthen children's rights in the European Union and run the risk of undermining the high standards of the UNCRC.

7. All Member States of the European Union as well as the vast majority of nations throughout the world have signed up to the UNCRC. Therefore it should be natural for the Charter of Fundamental Rights to incorporate the UNCRC.

14 December 2007