The Charter on Fundamental Rights looks like a relatively innocuous document. However, there are several causes for concern.
1. It does not give pre-eminence to individual civil and political rights over collective and social rights, even if it is, for now, more explicit about them.
2. It does not provide for a pre-eminent freedom of expression clause with the same force as that in the U.S. Constitution
3. It is laden with the language of solidarity and social inclusion that is the partisan discourse of the European social democratic parties. Such commitments belong in party programs, not constitutional documents.
4. The various OSCE and UN human rights commitments to which we have signed up are adequate. Despite claims to the contrary, we cannot know the extent of judicial activism and legislation that will flow from the Charter.
5. Even if Ireland has already committed itself to aspects of the Charter, there is a case for being really bold and renouncing those commitments. Lisbon 2 and any crisis that would follow its rejection offer a rare opportunity to put issues of concern back into play.
6. The Charter has never been fully debated in Ireland, with specific articles up for public scrutiny. More often than not, the attitude has been; this is about human rights and who, apart from fascists and their ilk, would be opposed to human rights? We need real debates on these rights and their significance, not just among Dail parties that go along with them but with real critics and defenders having it out in the public arena. The focus on the treaties, and relative inattention to the Charter, now and previously, is part of the democratic deficit in the wider ratification process.
7. Constitutionally declared rights ought to reflect the broadest possible consensus. Since many of the rights are those espoused by only one or other faction in the European political space, they cannot be properly said to reflect European values but rather the values of some European citizenns.