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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.



Learning objectives

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.


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.

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. Social rights (5 weeks)
  4. Children’s rights (5 weeks)
  5. Data protection (5 weeks)
  6. Protection of fundamental rights in the area of asylum and migration (5 weeks)

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.


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