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The EU's Accession to the ECHR: Conflict or Convergence of Social Rights?

Rebecca Zahn, Nicole Busby

The EU legal order has long been at the forefront of the development of social rights as a means of equalising and, in some instances, furthering employment protection for particular groups of workers and in certain specified circumstances. However, the underlying rationale for the development of social rights in an EU context has traditionally been one of economic reasoning. At an international level, social rights are articulated as fundamental human rights in the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and in Conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). In recent years the relationship between the EU and these institutions of international law has become increasingly formalised. First, ILO Conventions have been ratified by the vast majority of the EU's member states. Second, the Charter of Fundamental Rights encompasses the ECHR and ILO principles and so can be seen as a linchpin in the consolidation of the EU and international law regimes. Moreover, the Treaty of Lisbon makes the EU's accession to the ECHR a legal obligation. This gives rise to an interesting conundrum: How to reconcile the separate and distinct evolution of the two legal frameworks attributable to the Court of Justice of the European Union's (CoJ) jurisprudence on EU provisions on the one hand and the European Court of Human Rights' interpretation and application of international standards on the other. This paper will explore the effect of the increasingly formalised relationship between the two courts on the social rights of EU citizens. The principle objective is to consider whether and to what extent the impact of international law in this area is likely to lead to the constitutionalisation of social rights within the EU legal order.

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