“Everyone has the right to life” and “No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed.” This is what Article 2 of the Charter tells us. We tend to associate the right to life with extremes: On the one hand, with capital punishment or excessive police violence in semi-dictatorial regimes and, on the other, with sophisticated discussions about the beginning of life (e.g. in the context of abortion) and its end (e.g. in the context of euthanasia) in modern societies. All these contexts seem rather unrelated to the EU. How is it then, that the EU enters with Article 2 of the Charter a territory that appears seemingly quite removed from “Brussels”?
The Charter’s right to life: room for action?
There are at least three reasons why it is important the EU Charter protects the right to life:
|Two examples of how the EU protects the right to life|
The right to life in the Member States
At national level the right to life is a very obvious and prominent component of human rights protection. A look in the 27 constitutions reveals three points:
Diversity rather than unity reigns at national level when it comes to the question of whether or not the right to life already applies before birth. The Czech and the Slovak constitutions stress that human life is worth protection even before birth, the Irish constitution “acknowledges the right to life of the unborn … with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother” and, finally, the Hungarian constitution protects “the life of the foetus from the moment of conception”. The constitutional texts of the other Member States remain silent on this point, just as the EU Charter itself.
Our right to life is not only protected under national and international law but also under EU law. So far, this right has not been of major practical relevance in case law. But it is definitively good to have it, so as to ensure that EU law and policies respect this right. Interested in knowing more? Well, here you are: ‘All EU-r rights‘, stay tuned!
|Gabriel N. Toggenburg is an Honorary Professor for European Union and Human Rights Law at the University of Graz, Austria. He worked as a Senior Researcher for Eurac Research in Bolzano/Bozen (Italy) from 1998 to 2008. Since 2009, he has been working for the European Union. All views expressed are his own and cannot be attributed to his current or former employers. His blog series “All EU-r rights” published on EUreka! aims at making the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights better known. He is grateful for the honour to have every blog entry introduced by a piece of art by Miloladesign. An annotated list of all Charter rights is available here.|
 This is a legitimate question. The right to life is perhaps the provision that best exemplifies a general characteristic of the Charter. Namely that the Charter is drafted in a ‘competence-agnostic’ language: it does not take into account whether or not the EU holds relevant competences in the fields of special relevance for a specific right. In fact, a Swedish member of the European Convention drafting the Charter in the years 1999 and 2000 proposed to skip the right to life altogether, given that the EU would lack relevant competences that could intrude into the right to life. See Martin Borowsky, Artikel 2, in Juergen Meyer and Sven Hoelscheidt, Charter der Grundrechte, 5th edition 2019, at p. 151.
 Art. 7(3) of the Greek constitution and Art.15 of the Spanish constitution.
 Art. 6(1) of the Czech constitution and Art. 5 (1) of the Slovak constitution.
 Art, 40.3.3. of the Irish constitution.
 Art. II of the Hungarian constitution.
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