European Union Vice President Catherine Ashton is working to establish guidelines on labeling settlement products.
In a letter, dated earlier this month and first published by Haaretz on Tuesday, Ashton, who is the EU’s foreign policy chief, pointed out the complexity of ensuring that products are labelled correctly, but noted that “an overwhelming majority of Members States have recently supported or openly demanded the preparation of EU-wide guidelines on this issue in order to implement EU law in a coherent manner.”
Here is the full text of the July 8 letter, sent to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and seven other commissioners:
The EU and its Member States have a clear position on Israeli settlement activities in the occupied territories. Closely linked to this the question of ensuring the correct labelling of imported products originating beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders that are marketed as Israeli products.
Several Member States have already introduced voluntary national guidelines on the labelling of such products; others plan doing so. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of Member States have recently supported or openly demanded the preparation of EU-wide guidelines on this issue in order to implement EU law in a coherent manner.
The EU Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) of 14 May 2012 stated:
“The EU and its Member States reaffirm their commitment to fully and effectively implement existing EU legislation and the bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products. The council underlines the importance of the work being carried out together with the Commission in this regard.”
This position was confirmed in the FAC conclusions on the MEPP of 10 December 2012.
Following up on these conclusion, the EEAS and relevant Commission services carried out a mapping of existing EU law relevant for the labelling of settlement products. It includes legislation establishing voluntary origin labelling requirements — e.g. on consumer information (responsible DG JUST) or on food (DG SANCO). Specific legislation on selected products requires mandatory origin labelling — e.g. on cosmetics (DG SANCO) or on agricultural products (fresh fruits and vegetables, wine, organic farming etc.), which are key settlement exports (DG AGRI). In February 2013, the Commission proposed new horizontal legislation on market, which envisages mandatory origin labelling for non-food products (DG ENTR). All relevant pieces of law have important commercial customs, internal market and legal aspects (DG TRADE, TAXUD, MARKT, LS).
The results of this mapping outlined (i) the complex legal basis applicable to labelling across sectors. (ii) difficulties in clearly identifying the origin of settlement products, (iii) mixed competences, with enforcement responsibilities lying primarily in the hands of Members States’ competent authorities, but with an important role for the Commission, especially in cases of mandatory legislation.
Since the FAC conclusions of May and especially December 2012, Member States’ support for action at EU level has steadily increased. The results of the mapping reinforced the demand for preparing EU-wide guidelines on labelling. In response to my letter of 22 February 2013 to Member States’ Foreign Ministers, which mentioned the option of EU guidelines, Foreign Ministers wrote to me on 12 April in order to welcome and support their preparation.
In order to meet this demand, the Commission needs to ensure effective implementation existing legislation relevant for the correct labelling of settlement products by adopting EU guidelines and other implementing acts (e.g. Commission decisions or Commission regulations) where necessary. Further work requires the mobilisation of Commission services by ensuring an explicit political commitment at the level of the College. For this purpose, I will propose to put this issue on the agenda of the College in the very near future.
Our services subsequent joint work on the preparation of guidelines can be organised within focused meetings of the Inter-Service Group on relations with Israel and Palestine. 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.
I hereby call for your commitment towards ensuring the effective implementation of existing EU legislation relevant for the correct labelling of settlement products by adopting EU guidelines and other implementing acts where necessary. I would highly appreciate your support for a political commitment of the College as a whole and for all further efforts needed from your services and the EEAS.
The letter did not give a specific timeline for the required guidelines, although Ashton did note that she intends to move quickly on the matter.