The Convention on the Future of Europe is a temporary body set up by the European Union (EU) Heads of Government in February 2002 to simplify the EU Treaty and identify necessary institutional reform in preparation for 2004 when 10 more states will become members of the Union. The Convention has a total of 105 members, representing national governments, national parliaments, the European Parliament and the European Commission.
On 15th June 2003, the Convention approved the text of the Draft Constitutional Treaty of the European Union, and on 20th June it was submitted to the European Council meeting in Thessaloniki, Greece. The draft has two matters of interest for Right to Die Europe: the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the inclusion of Article 1-51, which gives churches the right to intervene in European Union policy-making.
a) The Charter of Fundamental Rights
The Charter of Fundamental Rights, which has existed as a political declaration since 7 December 2000, is the first formal EU document to provide a formal comprehensive catalogue of the values and fundamental civil, political, economic and social rights enjoyed by EU citizens.
The Convention on the Future of Europe proposes to fully integrate Charter of Fundamental Rights as Part II of the Constitutional Treaty, to help the Union develop a more coherent and legitimate human rights policy. The effect of this would be to make the Charter legally binding.
The Charter does not directly address the issue of assisted dying, and it is the opinion of the European Policy Centre (a think-tank) and Doctor Steve Peers (a leading academic), that incorporating it into the Constitutional Treaty will not have an impact on national efforts to decriminalise assisted dying. However, the Charter would be referred to if legislative change were pursued at a European level, if a case was taken to the European Courts, or in cases of cross-border assisted dying:
There is no EU legislation addressing the issue of assisted dying, and the scope of the Charter is limited (under Article 51) to actions by the EU institutions and by the Member State implementing Union law. So most cases of assisted dying will remain under the control of national governments.
However, based on existing case law it is clear that cross-border movement of medical services falls within the scope of EU law. So if the person wishing to die moved across an EU border to receive assistance or the person willing to assist them moved to offer it, then EU law (and therefore the Charter) would apply.
Article 52(3) of the Charter requires all the provisions based on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to be interpreted the same way as the ECHR. So it will not be possible to argue that the right to life or to be free from degrading treatment also entails the right to die. However, there is no such limitation on rights not based on the ECHR. Doctor Peers speculated that the right to human dignity, which is set out in the Charter but not in the ECHR as such, could be relevant. (A brief summary of the Charter’s relevant articles is provided at the end of this report).
There are currently no plans to open the Charter of Fundamental Rights to revision. The European Policy Centre advised people seeking a change in European law, like Diane Pretty, to go directly to the European Court of Human Rights rather than the European Court of Justice.
Relevant articles of the Charter of Fundamental Rights:
- Article 1 states that: “Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected”.
- Article 2, which sets out the ‘Right to life’, does not mention the right to end one’s life.
- Article 4 states that: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
- Article 25 (The rights of the elderly) says only: “The Union recognises and respects the rights of the elderly to lead a life of dignity and independence and to participate in social and cultural life.”
The only article to deal with bioethics is Article 3, which states that: “Everyone has the right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity”. This article includes prohibitions on eugenic practices and the reproductive cloning of human beings, but makes no reference to the issue of euthanasia.
To access a copy of the Charter of Fundamental Rights go here .
A summary of international, European and national case-law which is relevant to the articles of the Charter of Fundamental Rights can be obtained from Jenny Saunders.
b) Article 1-51
Of particular concern to Human Rights groups is Article I-51 which is included in the Convention’s proposed Articles concerning the democratic life of the Union. Article 1-51 addresses the status of churches and non-confessional organisations. It sets out that:
- The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States.
- The Union equally respects the status of philosophical and non-confessional organisations.
- Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.
Under Article 1-51 churches will have a right to regular intervention in the policy-making of the European Union, which will enable them to assert their religious options on moral and social issues, including euthanasia.
The House of Lord’s Select Committee on the European Union has expressed concern about this article, because they have found the scope and extent of application of the Union’s obligation to consult with churches is unclear. Failure to define these terms “might open the door to a wide range of bodies (including sects and cults), some of which might generally be considered to be harmful, and some actually dangerous, to society.”
Despite many interventions the Convention has refused to alter the substance of the text, which is taken from Declaration 11 annexed to the Amsterdam Treaty. In the Draft Constitution Volume 1 May 26th 2003, it writes that by “moving in the direction of a re-write of a text that exists and has proved satisfactory, the Convention would risk opening up once again a more general and difficult debate which has already taken place in the past.”
On 30th April over one hundred human rights organisations, including Right to Die Europe, appealed to the Convention for the withdrawal of the Article (then known as Article 37), arguing that the separation of Church and State must apply to all areas of community life. On Friday 6th June five of these organizations, including Right to Die Europe (which was represented by Jacqueline Herremans) held a press conference at the Press Center of the European Parliament to explain their continued opposition to the inclusion of this Article in the Constitution. In a press release before the conference, they said: “These measures constitute an important regression and are contrary to the principles of laicity and of neutrality of public Institutions.”
Summer 2004 to the end of 2005 is the probable ratification period for new treaty, with some of the 25 EU members holding referendums, others by vote of national parliaments. The treaty would probably come into force in 2006 if ratified by all EU members.
The Convention has emphasised the importance of making the Union more responsive to its citizens. To voice your opinion, contact your MEP or send your submission by post or email to your national office of the European Parliament.
The contact details for your MEP or national office are available here .
To access the most recent Draft Constitution Volume 1 go here .
To access the Report of the Select Committee on the European Union of the House of Lords, presented by Lord Tomlinson and Lord Maclennan: “The Future of Europe: Constitutional Treaty – Articles 33-37 (The Democratic Life of the Union)” go here .
To access a copy of the press release for the press conference go here .
To add your name to the appeal go here .