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Fundamental Rights in EuropeOrganization logo: Utrecht University

About this course

Background and objectives
Protecting fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression, privacy and non-discrimination, is essential in democratic states governed by the rule of law. At the same time, providing that protection is challenging. Different systems of fundamental rights protection coexist in Europe: there are the national constitutions, but protection is also offered by EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In addition, there is much debate as to whether limits can be placed on the exercise of fundamental rights, for instance to protect the rights of others or in relation to general interests such as those of security or health. This leads to a host of institutional, legal, theoretical and moral questions. What exactly are fundamental rights, what is their value and meaning, how and to what extent are they legally protected in Europe, and how does that protection take shape in the multi-layered and highly pluralistic European context? This course focuses on those questions.

Set-up of the course
The first part of the course concentrates on theoretical and institutional issues. We discuss what fundamental rights are, why they deserve special protection, who can invoke this protection, and how this protection has been given shape on the European level. We discuss the two main European systems of fundamental rights protection from a legal perspective and consider their characteristics and their interrelationship and interaction with national law. We further pay attention to overarching, general principles of fundamental rights law, such as the structure of fundamental rights, the interpretation of rights, and requirements for limitation.
In the second part of the course, we study specific fundamental rights to discover how the general theoretical principles and institutional arrangements discussed in the first part of the course have an effect in concrete cases. In four weeks, we aim to give you an understanding of selected issues concerning (1) dignity-related rights; (2) freedom rights; (3) equality rights and social and economic rights; and (4) privacy rights. In doing so, we also address questions concerning horizontal effect, conflicts between fundamental rights, proportionality, positive obligations, etc. In these discussions, we always choose examples from current case law of the ECtHR and the CJEU.

A Dutch-language and an English-language variant
We offer this course bilingually. We do this by offering the lectures in the course in English and by presenting English-language study material (compulsory literature and case law). For the seminars, you can choose between a Dutch-language seminar group (with a Dutch-language syllabus) or an English-language seminar group (with an English-language syllabus). If you choose the English-language variant, you will write your paper and answer your exam questions in English.

Learning outcomes

After this course the student:

  • Has gained knowledge and insight into a number of core topics of fundamental rights protection in Europe, namely about (1) institutional set-up of the main protection systems and their central principles, (2) the main general doctrines and legal aspects of European fundamental rights protection (e.g. structure of fundamental rights, positive and negative obligations, interpretation mechanisms, conditions for legitimate limitation) and (3) the main points of four sets of fundamental rights (dignity rights, freedom rights, equality rights and privacy rights).

  • Is able to make connections between legal questions related to European fundamental rights and political and institutional debates on sovereignty and responsibility, and to understand political and academic discussions on the interaction between ECHR, EU and national fundamental rights protection.

  • Is able to provide a sound legal argumentation on the general principles and institutional set-up of European fundamental rights protection systems.

  • Is able to explain the relationship between complex European fundamental law issues and developments, and take an informed stand in relation to the fundamental rights issues discussed in the course.

  • Is able to solve cases combining elements of national, ECHR and EU law, answer questions about the structure and interpretation of fundamental rights, and deal with 'hard cases' that require a value judgement as part of a legal argumentation.

Prior knowledge

You must meet the following requirements

  • Completed all course modules listed below
  • Introduction European Law (RGBUIER001)
  • Foundations of Law (RGBUSBR001)
  • Intro Constitutional/Administrative Law (RGBUSBR002)
  • Perspectives on Law (RGBUSBR003)

About registration

Do you study at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) or Wageningen University and Research (WUR)? You can enrol via

If anything remains unclear, please check the FAQ of Utrecht University.


  • Start date

    22 april 2024

    • Ends
      14 juli 2024
    • Term *
      Period 4
    • Location
    • Instruction language
    • Register between
      30 Oct, 00:00 - 24 Nov 2023
    Enrolment period closed
These offerings are valid for students of TU Eindhoven