Sunday

15th Dec 2019

Opinion

Israeli labelling ruling lets consumers make choice

  • The Israeli-built separation wall. Products from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories will now have to comply with the EU labelling ruling (Photo: Northern Lights 119)

By its landmark decision today, the Court of Justice of the European Union has affirmed categorically, that products originating from a territory occupied by Israel should be correctly labelled in order to allow European consumers to make a free and informed choice when buying goods from the region.

In practical terms, this decision means that henceforth, all products, such as wine, avocado, dates, grapes and citrus fruits are required to be labelled in all European stores and on-line retail, as explicitly coming from Israeli settlements in the West Bank or the Golan Heights, if that is the case and not "Made in Israel".

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The court has reminded us that EU consumers have indeed a most fundamental right to be provided with correct and objective, but also clear and understandable information on their purchases.

While this decision is to be warmly welcomed, it is regrettable that it took many years of mobilisation by civil society groups and finally, a referral by a French national judge to the court in Luxembourg, in order to state the obvious and reaffirm a very clear obligation under EU consumer protection law as regards the labelling of Israeli settlement goods.

In effect, the ruling highlights the high degree of inconsistency in member states' practice in this regard.

Indeed, only six out of the 28 EU member states have taken an active stance in including in their legislation the UN Security Council-required policy of differentiation between Israeli settlements and Israel. These include Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands.

And, the practice of member states in terms of the correct labelling of Israeli settlement products has been grossly inadequate across the Union.

We now urge EU member states to apply this ruling effectively and, as guardian of the treaties, the European Commission has now a pressing duty to monitor carefully that member states do indeed abide by this decision.

Beyond the Israel-specific dimension of this decision, the EU Court places ethics back at the heart of European consumer choices and reminds us that our daily, mundane purchases may have considerable and unforeseen geopolitical implications, particularly as regards occupied territories and tragic conflicts around the globe.

In this regard, today's ruling of the EU Court highlights the very contrasting if not contradictory approaches the EU has adopted towards trade involving occupied territories.

It has, for example, imposed sanctions and restrictive measures on Russia in relation to the situation in Crimea from where no products may currently be imported since the illegal occupation and annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014.

In contrast, the EU has openly included the territory of Western Sahara, illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975, in bilateral agreements on agricultural and fishery products with Rabat, allowing these goods to enter the EU market as assimilated to Moroccan products and labelled as such.

It is high time to draw the necessary conclusions from today's ruling and ensure, at long last, consistency and legality in our trade policies towards such situations on the doorsteps of the European Union.

In addition to carrying out a deep and comparative review by the commission of the EU's approach to trade with territories under occupation/annexation - from Northern Cyprus, to Nagorno-Karabakh, from Western Sahara to Crimea, we call for an EU-wide initiative to regulate trade in products from all occupied territories.

In this respect, the recent proposal of the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 in the Republic of Ireland that aims at prohibiting trade with, and economic support for illegal settlements in territories deemed occupied under international law, is encouraging but will not be sufficient at European level.

At a time when the newly-elected commission president, Ursula von der Leyen states her intention to lead a "geopolitical commission", the EU court underscores that trade cannot and should not be taken out of its political context.

The EU has an active role to play in ensuring it does not become an accomplice of a state of occupation that it frequently denounces at a foreign policy level but instead contributes to improving the situation on the ground by promoting fair and rule-based trade policies with its trading partners.

The decision by the court today constitutes a major step in this direction.

Author bio

Petra de Sutter is a Green MEP from Belgium and chair of the single market committee. The other authors are Green/EFA MEPs Yannick Jadot, Heidi Hautala, Mounir Satouri, Margrete Auken, Grace O’Sullivan, Gina Dowding, Alyn Smith, Caroline Roose, Catherine Rowett and Jill Evans.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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