Leading EU countries to stigmatise Israeli settler goods
22.04.13 @ 09:26
BRUSSELS - France and the Netherlands have joined an initiative by 13 EU states to help European consumers boycott goods made by Israeli settlers on Palestinian land.
Foreign ministers from the group - which also includes Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and the UK - put forward their ideas in a letter to EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton on 11 April.
The text - seen by EUobserver - says they "welcome [Ashton's] commitment to work with fellow [EU] commissioners to prepare EU-wide guidelines on the labelling of settlement produce."
It notes that: "the correct labelling of products is necessary to ensure our consumers are not being misled by false information."
In a sign the letter is more than just rhetoric, the ministers pledged "effective implementation" of existing EU laws and promised to "circulate" Ashton's previous appeal on labelling "to our [other] ministries and enforcement bodies."
Ashton in an internal memo on 22 February urged all EU countries to undertake "full and effective enforcement of EU labelling legislation in the case of Israel."
The EU legislation stems from various directives on trade and retail dating back more than 12 years.
Ashton's officials and the European Commission are preparing a non-binding EU code of conduct on how to apply the rules.
They showed a first draft to member states' diplomats on 17 January.
EU officials earlier told EUobserver that a code on settler-produced food will be ready in mid-2013. They said a code covering all exports, including wine and cosmetics, could take much longer, however.
Denmark and the UK already have labelling regimes.
Most of the other countries in the group-of-13 are also known for taking a tough line on Israel. But action by France and the Netherlands is a new development.
The Netherlands used to be Israel's firm ally in Brussels. But The Hague switched sides after the arrival of Israeli-critical foreign minister Frans Timmermans in a new coalition government last November.
Meanwhile, former French and Dutch VIPs last week signed a separate letter to Ashton complaining about "stagnation" in the peace process.
They said Israel's support for settlers indicates "a permanent trend towards a complete dislocation of Palestinian territorial rights."
They called for "a clear and concerted effort to counter the erasing of the 1967 lines" and said "later generations will see it as unforgivable that we Europeans … took no action to remedy the continuing destruction of the Palestinian people's right to self-determination."
The signatories include former French PM Lionel Jospin and former Dutch leader Andreas Van Agt.
They also include two of Ashton's EU predecessors - Javier Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
For their part, Israeli diplomats say EU attention on settlers misses the point - that the real obstacles to peace are Palestine's refusal to negotiate and rocket fire from Gaza.
They accuse EU institutions of singling out Israel, while letting exporters from other disputed territories, such as Tibet, off the hook.
They also say that EU-Israeli relations are much stronger than isolated statements might indicate.
Israeli President Simon Peres got the red carpet treatment in Brussels, Paris and Strasbourg last month.
Israel on Sunday (21 April) also ratified an aviation deal - called Open Skies - on lifting restrictions on European airline flights to Israeli cities.