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Fundamental Social Rights in the European Union

This course offers an overview of the main challenges in the protection of social rights, easily one of the most sensitive topics in EU politics. Contrary to other legal systems solely dedicated to the protection of social rights (such as the International Labour Organisation or the European Social Charter of the Council of Europe), the EU has a broader political and economic agenda. Social rights in the EU face several challenges, such as keeping social dumping at bay, reconciling high standard labour markets and social security policies with the stringent post-crisis requirements of the EMU (economic and monetary union), and finding a harmonious balance between worker’s rights and the freedom to conduct business.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is not always effective when it comes to the social rights it claims to protect. In this course, we will try to detangle the complicated web of EU fundamental social rights protection. We will start with the history and complete the learning process with the present post-crisis European Union.

This is the second of five e-learning courses offered within the ambit of the e-NACT project, this time delivered by the Free University Brussels – ULB, and the variety of national institutions offering trainings to judges in the national contexts.


Course Outline

Week 1 Introduction & State of Play: The Charter and Fundamental Social Rights in the European Union
First week of the course retraces the history of EU social rights and presents the legal sources, as well as the complicated interaction between the Charter and secondary EU legislation.

Week 2: Rights v. Principles
This week is dedicated to the distinction between rights and principles set out in Articles 51 and 52 of the Charter, and which has consequences especially on social rights. Both the theoretical facets of the distinction, as the case-law of the CJEU on this matter are explored.

Week 3: CJEU – the good, the bad and the ugly. Part I: the good
During Week 3 we will focus on two of the most impactful directives of European labour law, and their interaction with the Charter. We will be discussing Council directive 2000/78/EC establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation and directive 2003/88/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 November 2003 concerning certain aspects of the organization of working time.

Week 4 CJEU - the good, the bad and the ugly, part II: the bad and the ugly – the CJEU’s schizophrenia
In the course of Week 4 we will focus on social rights when balanced with other rights. We analyze the case law of the CJEU when collective social rights enter into conflict with economic freedoms, and the protection of social rights in the context of the financial crisis.

Week 5: EU fundamental social rights in interaction with other legal systems
Week 5 is dedicated to the interaction of the EU legal framework with the legal orders of the European Social Charter on the one hand, and of the European Convention on Human Rights on the other.

Lecturers and Experts

The e-NACT courses feature a group of academics, judges, and other practitioners passionate for fundamental rights and willing to spread the knowledge about them both within their professional networks and beyond. As the courses build on the trans-national trainings conducted within the e-NACT project, we invited also experts that delivered these residential training to enrichen the online courses with their perspectives and experience.


Learning Outcomes

Having completed this course, the learners will have obtained the knowledge of the legal value of fundamental social rights in the European Union such as are guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. They will explore the inconsistencies in the protection of fundamental social rights, how in some cases the protection is expansive, yet lacking in other areas. Finally, they will explore the protection of fundamental social rights beyond the borders of the EU, and how the latter interacts with other legal systems.

The overall Project

e-learning National Active Charter Training(e-NACT) Project is a DG Justice supported project providing for a training methodology and training activities that, coupled with the expertise of the trainers involved, foster the emergence and consolidation of a common culture of fundamental rights. By discussing with academics and with foreign colleagues their difficulties or good practices with respect to the application of the EU Charter, legal practitioners will deepen their understanding and equip themselves with new instruments and notions to use it effectively.For this purpose, e-NACT will offer systematic, interdisciplinary, interconnected and combined residential and e-learning training on five fundamental rights guaranteed in the EU Charter.

The following courses are offered within this project:

  1. Crash course on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (1 week)
  2. Freedom of expression (5 weeks)
  3. Fundamental Social rights in the European Union (5 weeks)
  4. Children’s rights in the EU Charter (5 weeks)
  5. La protection des droits des enfants dans le cadre de la Charte des droits fondamentaux de l'Union européenne (5 semaines)
  6. The European Charter of Fundamental Rights and Data Protection in the European legal framework (5 weeks)
  7. Asylum and Immigration Detention: The Protection of Fundamental Rights in the European Union (5 weeks)

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Professor of European Union Law and Jean Monnet Chair of EU Law at the University of Cambridge

Catherine Barnard is Professor of European Union Law and Jean Monnet Chair of EU Law at the University of Cambridge. She is also Senior Tutor of Trinity College.

She specializes in European Union law, labour and discrimination law, and competition law. Catherine Barnard is also the founder of and researcher at the think-tank UK in a Changing Europe, which is the leading authoritative source for independent research on UK-EU relations and Brexit.

Sina Van den Bogaert

Legal Officer at the European Commission

Sina Van den Bogaert, Dr. jur. (2017), Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University, is a Legal Officer at the European Commission.

She is a former Research Fellow of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg. She has published several articles on European Non-discrimination Law.

Stefan Clauwaert


After graduating in Social Law from the University of Ghent (Belgium) in 1993, Stefan Clauwaert began work at the ETUI in October 1995.

His main fields of research are European/comparative labour law and European social dialogue. His work also comprised the setting up and coordination of the ETUC trade union legal experts’ network NETLEX (until 2007) as well as –since 1999– participation as expert to the ETUC delegation in all the EU cross-sectoral social dialogue negotiations.

He also represents the ETUC in the framework of the Council of Europe Social Charter activities, in particular by participating in the meetings of the Governmental Committee and also ensuring trade union observations/complaints in the so-called Collective Complaints Procedure. Furthermore, he has cooperated in an advisory capacity with several academic and trade union networks/institutions.

Areg Navasartian

Researcher at the Centre for European Law of the Free University of Brussels (ULB)

Areg Navasartian is a researcher at the Centre for European Law of the Free University of Brussels (ULB).

She specializes mainly in European social law, fundamental rights and non-discrimination law. As a researcher, Areg Navasartian has been responsible for many projects, including e-NACT.

e-NACT MOOC on Fundamental Social Rights in the European Union -