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BIARRITZ, France Oct. 14, 2000 – The leaders of the European Union have agreed on a new Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The new charter, setting out for all 375 million citizens of the EU, more than 50 entitlements, such as the right to life, to education, to take collective industrial action, to consultation at work and to a dignified old age, was agreed by all the leaders and will be formally proclaimed at the Nice summit which will end the French Presidency in December.

There is still dispute, however, about the legal status of the document. The charter of rights is at present merely a political declaration, dismissed by the UK Europe Minister Keith Vaz as having no more legal validity than a comic book.

But Nicole Fontaine, the President of the European Parliament, urged the leaders in Biarritz to make the Charter legally binding and Romano Prodi, the President of the European Commission, has said it will inevitably become legally binding in time.

A majority of EU countries are currently against giving the document legal status but in a surprise intervention at the concluding press conference of the summit President Jacques Chirac of France left the question open.

He said that while the Charter would be adopted under the French Presidency at Nice, it would be for the Swedes, who follow the French in the revolving presidency of the EU, to determine the question of its legal status during their six months in the chair, beginning on January 1.

The Biarritz meeting was a staging post on the way to the key Euro-summit at Nice in December when the 15 countries have to settle on the reforms to equip the EU for enlargement.

See also…

Human Rights (Law Forum)