Monitoring and enforcing fundamental rights: can the European Union measure up against other international organizations?: Rhona K. M. Smith
With literally hundreds of international, regional and national tabulations of human rights, it is perhaps unsurprising that the European Union (EU) now has its own instrument on fundamental rights. It is thus timely to be reminded that ‘human rights standards should not remain simply “law in books” – just a beautiful promise’.1 To realize this promise of rights, international organizations and states must create an adequate system for monitoring and enforcing rights. The EU is no exception. It has a growing rights focus, and indeed has recently signed and ratified a United Nations (UN) core human rights treaty – the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – thus it now must ensure the necessary machinery is in place to protect and promote rights. The question this chapter poses is simple: does the present institutional framework of the EU support claims it is ‘a global player in the field of human rights’? If an effective institutional framework is in place for supranational monitoring of rights, then the claims gain credence; if the EU merely evinces rights as a policy objective, without underpinning such polices with monitoring and enforcing mechanisms, claims to global recognition in the area lack foundation. First an outline of an effective institutional framework will be given, followed by a brief historical account of the evolution of rights discourse and institutions within the EU. The institutional framework of the EU will then be considered in depth, with a focus on the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. A ‘global player’ or not, the EU faces serious competition from the Council of Europe with its unparalleled achievements in judicially monitoring human rights compliance. Some comments on the progress of the EU in monitoring and enforcing fundamental rights will conclude this chapter.