• Ashon faces questions from press in Brussels (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU seeks code on Israeli settler goods by end of 2013

23.07.13 @ 09:11

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton wants an EU code on retail labels of Israeli settlement products by the end of the year.

She said in a letter to seven fellow members of the European Commission dated 8 July and seen by Israeli daily Haaretz that: "The guidelines could be adopted as a non-binding commission notice and published in the Official Journal of the EU before the end of 2013."

She noted: "I would highly appreciate your support for a political commitment of the college [of all 28 EU commissioners] as a whole and for all further efforts needed from your services."

The seven commissioners named in the letter - Viviane Reding, Antonio Tajani, Neven Mimica, Dacian Ciolos, Algirdas Semeta, Karel de Gucht and Michel Barnier - deal with portfolios ranging from consumer protection to anti-fraud.

Ashton noted that EU institutions in January completed a review of existing EU law on the subject.

Apart from the non-binding code of conduct on all products, the review said there should be "mandatory" labels on cosmetics, agricultural produce and some "non-food" items made by settler firms.

The project stems from an EU member states' agreement in May last year to "effectively implement" EU legislation in the area.

A group of 13 EU countries in a letter in April pledged political support for going ahead.

The group includes: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and the UK.

Three of them - Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK - already have domestic guidelines.

Two retailers in the Netherlands - Aldi and Hoogvliet - earlier recently settler goods altogether in order not to confuse their customers.

Ashton's end-of-year deadline for the EU labelling code comes after last week said it will no longer give grants to Israeli entities which are established on occupied land.

The move prompted a furious reaction by Israeli politicians, including accusations of European "anti-Semitism."

At the same time, the EU's decision on Monday to blacklist the military wing of Lebanese group Hezbollah - Israel's fiercest enemy in the region - drew Israeli praise.

The various EU moves come amid a US effort to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

EU foreign ministers on Monday said they "will give active and concrete support to help ensure negotiations between the parties are successful."

But in a nod to settlements, they also said they will "address all issues that put the viability of the two-state solution at risk."

Some analysts believe the EU's tough line on settlements and its Hezbollah decision are linked to the US initiative, with Europe trying to goad and cajole the two sides into serious talks.

But EU diplomats dismissed the idea on Monday.

"They are all separate issues, they are not connected," one contact told EUobserver.

Israel over the past year approved 6,600 new housing units for settlers, while demolishing 535 Palestinian-owned structures on Palestinian land.

More than half a million Jewish settlers now live on land conquered by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.