28th Oct 2016

EU working on consumer labels for Israeli settlement products

Denmark is fronting an EU initiative to help consumers boycott Israeli settlement products.

Its foreign ministry is funding an event in Brussels on 23 October to get EU diplomats and NGOs, such as Oxfam and Crisis Action, talking about EU-level guidelines for consumer labels on settlement goods.

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  • Gun-farming on occupied land: An EU code on food labels is possible next year (Photo: Michael.Loadenthal)

The move comes after EU foreign ministers in May said they will "fully and effectively implement existing EU legislation" on the subject.

The EU says settlements are illegal. But its regular complaints about settlement expansion fall on deaf ears.

"The [October] workshop is designed to put the issue back on the agenda and to put action behind the words of the May conclusions ... We want to make it easier for consumers to vote with their wallet," a Danish diplomat told EUobserver.

France, Finland, Ireland and the UK (which imposed labels in British shops in 2009) back the initiative.

The French foreign ministry in a statement to the French senate last week said: "France is currently studying, together with several European partners, the possibility of publishing an [EU-level] code of conduct."

Finnish development minister Heidi Hautala noted on her blog in June: "Would you buy products that you know are coming from Israeli settlements? Many would not."

Swedish and British ministers Carl Bildt and Alistair Burt have also voiced sympathy.

Meanwhile, British MEPs - Chris Davies, Jill Evans, Ian Hudghton, Linda McAvan, Edward McMillan-Scott and Graham Watson - have bombarded EU institutions with questions on settlements in recent months.

For its part, the Cypriot EU presidency is doing nothing on the dossier.

And the MEPs are still waiting for answers.

But staff in the European Commission and in the European External Action Service are currently studying how existing EU law is being implemented.

Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told this website that directive 2000/13 on food labelling requires consumer labels on the "true origin" of goods.

She added that under directive 2005/29 on unfair commercial practices "indicating Israel as the origin for products produced on occupied Palestinian territories would be a misleading action" and that the commission aims to "take a more prominent role in monitoring and co-ordinating enforcement" in future.

Another EU official noted that directive 2002/178 on food contains pro-labelling provisions.

He said the issue went quiet over the summer break but work is "warming up again" in September.

He added that EU-level guidelines on labelling in individual sectors, such as food, might come out in "mid-2013." But the mixture of EU laws is so messy "it could take years" before a code of conduct on labelling of all settlement exports is ready.

He also said any code would not be legally binding on EU countries and that an EU ban on settlement imports is out of the question.

For his part, Stuart Reigeluth, an analyst at the Brussels-based NGO the Council for European Palestinian Relations, told EUobserver that "more EU member states would refuse [bogus labels] if the labelling system was clearer."

"Israel has been very clever in labelling everything as 'Made in Israel' ... [It] is clearly proceeding to integrate the settlements and thus annulling the two-state solution," he added, referring to the EU-and-US-backed model of a future Palestinian state alongside Israel.

An Israeli source said EU pressure on settlements is nothing new.

He said settlement-bashing supports the Palestinian line that settlement-building - instead of Israeli security - is the main obstacle in the peace process.

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