15 June 2015

The Protection of Human Rights in Europe, a dialogue between Luxembourg, Strasbourg, Karlsruhe and Paris












(Photo: Yann Toma, Paris-Sorbonne University)

On 30 May 2015, the UNAI Global Hub on Human Rights, the Paris-Sorbonne University, held a ceremony and panel discussion with the University of Cologne to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their joint French German law degree (LL.B. Köln/Paris 1). In addition to the participation of several high-ranking judges from both countries,  the French Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, and her German counterpart, Heiko Maas  attended the anniversary of the “Double–Maîtrise”. The fully integrated 4-years-bachelor’s degree exists since 1990, with about 60 students graduating each year. 

The protection of Human Rights in Europe was the predominant issue along the ceremony in Sorbonne-University in Paris. In addition, the importance of mastering the other countries’ language was discussed. The German Federal Minister of Justice demonstrated his strong admiration for the double-degree, the French Capital, as well as the venerable Sorbonne University, by holding his speech entirely in French. Referring to the key figures during the French Revolution, he emphasised that: “Fundamental Rrghts are essential to protect freedom”. To give an example, he cited several decisions ruled by the German Federal Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice on data protection.

Christiane Taubira, the French Minister of Justice, outlined the influence German and French legal systems have had on each other in the last decades and the respective benefits of this, for example: France examines each and every proceeding in Germany with curiosity; and the rulings of the German Federal Constitutional Court stimulates the legal debates in France, as recently shown with regards to anti-terrorism data and its collection.

During a panel discussion, the subject of Human Rights protection in Europe was then examined by a high-ranking panel, composed of Angelika Nußberger (Judge at the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR]), Thomas von Danwitz (Judge at the European Court of Justice [ECJ]), Johannes Masing (Judge at the German Federal Constitutional Court) Guy Canivet (Judge at the French Conseil constitutionnel) and Christian Vigouroux (Judge at the French Conseil d’État).

The core of the discussion was the complex relationship between the three levels of Human Rights protection in Europe: national (constitutional) law, European Union law and, International Law. “The era of “Solange” is over!” Thomas von Danwitz declared with reference to the famous rulings of the German Constitutional Court “Solange” and “Solange II”. During his intervention, he explained that nowadays, human rights protection within the European Union can be fully exercised through the European Institutions. He argued that the ECJ offers more than sufficient protection of fundamental values and human rights in EU Member States, which leaves no more reason to argue that any national court needs to preserve its competencies with regards to a possible failure of human rights protection through EU. He also defended the ECJ report, according to which the accession agreement of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights, negotiated by the EU and the Council of Europe, was incompatible with EU law.

Angelika Nußberger discussed the consequences of this decision, saying it will induce a closer control by the ECHR of the state measures taken in order to transpose European Union Law. Guy Canivet und Christian Vigouroux explained how the French supreme courts try to harmonize the three stages of the fundamental rights protection, by trying to interpret national law in the light of supranational law and European Court precedent. Both of them stressed that they consider it to be the duty of national courts to inform the ECJ about possible deficiencies in its rulings.

Johannes Masing discussed the importance of federalism with regards to Human Rights protection. He mentioned the different positions about issues such as the wearing of veils in public, in order to illustrate that the difficulties of unifying fundamental rights protection without consideration to national history. In his point of view, the European Convention on Human Rights is a minimum threshold, on which Member States build their own system. As to the influence of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, he suggested it should be reduced to areas where the EU imposes concrete obligations upon Member States, and bears the political responsibility for them.

Prof. Yann Toma, Paris-Sorbonne University