EU close to decision on labeling products from Israeli settlements

The EU has been debating the labels for several years but has never put in place any measure.

EU flags (photo credit: AFP/ DANIEL ROLAND)
EU flags
(photo credit: AFP/ DANIEL ROLAND)
The European Union is likely to finalize its guidelines for placing consumer labels on products made in West Bank settlements, its foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Saturday.
Some EU countries, including Britain, already issue guidance to shops so consumers can see whether goods are made in the settlements. The European Commission must decide how to extend these guidelines to all the 28 countries of the bloc.
“The work is close to being finished, but it is still ongoing,” Mogherini said after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
The guidelines would explain to member states how to use existing legislation to label products and would apply to all areas of Israel over the pre-1967 lines, including east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. They would not be binding, however, as member states could decide whether they want to use them.
These products already bear markings recognizable by EU customs officials so they are not included in Israel’s free trade arrangement with the EU, but when European consumers pick the products up in stores, they can see only that they are made in Israel.
MK Oren Hazan (Likud) said in response, “We can see that racism is still alive and well. After refugees in Europe are being marked with numbers on their arm, they are now labeling Jewish products. This is the same Europe and the same racism that consumed it during World War II. Nothing has changed.”
Mogherini’s predecessor, Catherine Ashton, had requested the guidelines be prepared upon pressure from European member states.
The US, however, asked the EU to freeze that work during its nine-month peace process from August 2013 to April 2014 out of fear the issue would harm the talks.
Work on the guidelines remained frozen until April of this year, when 16 EU countries sent a letter urging Mogherini to speed up the process.
Israel has opposed the move and has spoken repeatedly about it to the EU, fearing the guidelines will be used by those who want to boycott Israeli products. But its concern has fallen on deaf ears in Brussels and Israel assumes the guidelines eventually will be published.
While the push to move forward with the consumer labeling comes amid intense European frustration over the frozen peace process, the EU has spun the issue as one of consumer information.
“We have to make sure that consumers can distinguish products that come from territories occupied by Israel,” said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, whose country holds the sixmonth presidency of the EU.
“We are just applying international rules,” he told a news conference, adding that he expects a solution by the end of the year.
At the end of September, the Middle East Quartet – the United States, United Nations, European Union, and Russia – are to meet in New York together with foreign ministers from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the secretary-general of the Arab League to seek ways to revive the peace talks.
Mogherini said she has had discussions on this matter with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday and separately with the Russians.
Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not just about peace and justice, she said, but also in Europe’s best interest.
“To make sure that the Middle East Peace Process’s engine could be restarted, after more than one year of stalling, is also one way for us to contribute to a better understanding and a better sense of cooperation between Europe and the Arab world, the whole Middle East,” Mogherini said.
The quartet meeting will take place September 30 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to travel to New York for the opening.