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Founding Principles of the European Union

The treaty establishing the European Union, in the form it took with the Treaty of Amsterdam* (1997), states that the Union is founded on a certain number of principles. More recently, the Charter of Fundamental Rights proclaimed by the Union in Nice in 2000 reiterated and broadened these founding principles. As a result there is plainly a set of values underlying the edifice of the European Union.

What are the founding principles of the European Union?
JoŽl Molinier: They represent a set of values held in common by the member States and which they decided to incorporate into the foundations of the Union. These values include liberty, democracy, a respect for human rights and basic civil liberties, and rule by law. They are proclaimed in the treaty founding the Union, to which the Charter of Fundamental Rights added the dignity of the human being, equality and solidarity.

To what extent do the founding principles of the EU represent something new?
J.M. In and of themselves these principles are not new. They were first elevated to the status of principle by, variously, the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Council of Europe* or the The Court of Justice* of the European Communities in its rulings. What is new is that now the whole structure resulting from European integration is explicitly considered as resting on these principles. Whereas before Nice the additional principles were simply considered as a framework to be respected by the Union and by its member States in their actions.

What significance should be given to the declaration of the EU's founding principles?
J.M. The new status and attention accorded to the founding principles reflects the will of the member States to reinforce the legitimacy of the Union. At the same time, this recognition is part of the so-called return of politics, that is, the desire of moving beyond merely economic goals, which for a long time were the only ones identified with European integration, toward some political objectives. Finally, it is clear that a declaration of founding principles is a constitutive exercise; in proclaiming its founding principles Europe was launching a constitutional dynamic even before the current process of writing a true Constitution of Europe had been undertaken.

This work is the object of a research contract between the European Research Institute for Economic Law (IREDE Ė CNRS / University of Toulouse / University of Poitiers) and the CNRS' Mission for Law and Justice.

* See Glossary


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JoŽl Molinier
Director of IREDE
E-mail: irede@univ-tlse1.fr

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