5th Mar 2024

Israel steps up retaliation to EU retail code

  • Netanyahu met Mogherini in Paris despite dire warnings (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

Israeli has said it might block EU aid for Palestinian projects in the West Bank in retaliation against Europe’s retail code on settler products.

Emmanuel Nahshon, a foreign ministry spokesman, said on Tuesday (1 December), according to the Reuters news agency: “The European Union wants to be involved in a variety of projects, some of them ... regarding Palestinian welfare.”

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"With all those projects, we will need to re-examine whether it is feasible to consider the European Union as a partner while it is using measures of discrimination and boycott against the state of Israel.”

The announcement follows an earlier statement, on Sunday, that Israel will no longer invite representatives of EU institutions to talks on the Middle East peace process.

“Until completion of the reassessment [of EU relations], the prime minister has ordered a suspension of diplomatic contacts with the EU and its representatives in this matter,” the foreign ministry said.

Cancelled meetings

It has, since the EU Commission published the code on 11 November, already cancelled two EU meetings: on human rights and on international organisations.

It's also refusing to set a date for a follow-up meeting on EU projects in the Israeli-administered part of the West Bank, Area C, after initial talks in September.

But Nahshon noted that, EU institutions aside, Israel will keep talking to leading EU countries - citing France, Germany, and the UK - on peace initiatives.

France is a leading proponent of the EU code.

The UK was the first EU member, in 2009, to unilaterally impose labels.

"This decision is almost completely devoid of any real significance," an Israeli official told Israeli daily Haaretz on the diplomatic freeze.

“It's like the EU saying it's cutting communications with Israel but continuing to hold talks with each of its ministers independently.”

The EU foreign service is also downplaying the dispute.

It noted that EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini met with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu at the Paris climate summit on Monday.

“EU-Israel relations are good, broad, and deep and this will continue,” Maja Kocijancic, Mogherini's spokeswoman said.

“When it comes to the Middle East peace process, the EU does and will continue to work on this in the Quartet [a UN group], with our Arab partners, and with both parties [Israel and Palestine].”

She added that there’s “EU unity on this [the code].”

Greece told Israel in a letter that it won’t apply the measures, however, Israeli media report.

Hungary, and the CDU party of German chancellor Angela Merkel, have also criticised the EU guidelines, with Hungary calling them “inefficient.”

Fraction of trade

The code instructs retailers to say “product from … Israeli settlement” or equivalent on wine, farm produce, or cosmetics from the occupied territories.

It says it's meant to help consumers “take an informed transactional decision.”

It's non-binding.

In theory, member states could face “infringement proceedings” if they don’t apply the EU consumer laws which underpin the guidelines. But officials indicate legal action is unlikely.

The EU imports between €100 million and €300 million a year of settler products, less than 1 percent of bilateral trade.

The previous actions by the UK, but also Belgium and Denmark, prompted some shops to pull settler items, but didn't result in a mass boycott.

A Belgian official told EUobserver its code amounts to little in reality.

“I don’t know about you, but I simply don’t bother to read all the labels on products I buy. Too much info (calories, salt content - who cares?) and the print is too small anyway,” he said.

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