The judgment of 22 May 2014 in Glatzel is the first judgment in which the CJEU explicitly discussed article 51(1) and 52(5) of the Charter on Fundamental Rights, which distinguishes between (individual) rights and (programmatic) principles.
In Glatzel, the CJEU issued a preliminary ruling on the request of a German court about the compatibility with the Charter of Annex III to Directive 2006/126/EC (amended by Directive 2009/113/EC) laying down minimum standards relating to the physical fitness to drive a motor vehicle as regards visual acuity. The German court asked whether those physical conditions for drivers constitute discrimination on the grounds of disability and, hence, violate the principle of equal treatment (Article 20 of the Charter), and more specifically, the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of discrimination (Article 21(1)) as well as the principle of integrating of integrating persons with disabilities (Article 26). The CJEU eventually concluded that it did not have sufficient information to conclude that the Annex is invalid.
There are several interesting points which could be looked at more closely, such as the way in which the CJEU used the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) (para. 45, 68-72) as well as the way in which the CJEU carefully examined whether there is an objective justification of different treatment (see below). These two issues –the application of the CRPD and the elaborate justification test- have been the focus of previous judgments of the CJEU (see for example for the former, Z (Case C-363/12 ).
I. The distinction between rights and principles: a background and earlier cases of the CJEU
This post will, however, scrutinise the novel feature of this judgment: the fact that the CJEU has expressed itself for the first time on Article 51(1) and Article 52(5) of the Charter. These provisions make a distinction between rights and principles in the Charter. Article 51(1) provides:
The provisions of this Charter are addressed to the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union with due regard for the principle of subsidiarity and to the Member States only when they are implementing Union law. They shall therefore respect the rights, observe the principles and promote the application thereof in accordance with their respective powers and respecting the limits of the powers of the Union as conferred on it in the Treaties.
Article 52(5) stipulates:
The provisions of this Charter which contain principles may be implemented by legislative and executive acts taken by institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union, and by acts of Member States when they are implementing Union law, in the exercise of their respective powers. They shall be judicially cognisable only in the interpretation of such acts and in the ruling on their legality.
The inclusion of these provisions and this distinction between rights and principles was primarily the result of the opposition of UK, and also some other countries like the Denmark and the Netherlands, to the inclusion in the Charter of ‘social rights’ as legally enforceable claims. The UK eventually agreed with the inclusion of the Charter into the draft Constitution on the condition that the distinction between rights and principles was further clarified. The distinction was thus the result of a hard won battle and formed a crucial element in the Charter’s adoption. Continue reading