EU and Israel fight over food-labels. An Internal Market insight

External Relations

Agricultural products, coming from the areas occupied by Israel after 1967, will be delivered to the European Member States with labels reporting “Israeli Settlements”.

The European Commission took such a decision with an interpretative note, approved on 11th of November. The European Union, in fact, does not recognize those settlements created after 1967 as Israeli territory and, moreover, products coming from these spots are excluded from the European customs benefits provided for by the trade agreements between Israel and the EU.

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These measures target mainly products like fruits, vegetables and cosmetics produced by Israeli businesses settled in the West Bank, Jerusalem and in the Golan Heights. The largest part of European countries have been using, so far, labels referring to Israel as the country of origin, while in the United Kingdom, in Denmark and IN Belgium, a different label detailing “Israeli Settlements” did already exist: these measures have been introduced respectively in 2009, 2013 and 2014. The nature of this new standard is essentially voluntary for those products processed in Israel, even if the raw materials come from the territories concerned. So far, goods that will be labelled like that represent less than 1% of total exportations (13 billion euro) from Israel to the EU.

What is the reason why the EU took such a step towards the relationship with Israel? Let us come back to April 2015, when Foreign Ministers from 16 European countries drafted a letter targeting the High Representative Federica Mogherini, and asking for the introduction of such a law. Mr Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice President of the European Commission, explained that this kind of measure is merely a technical matter and have nothing to say politically. Vice President Dombrovsky also underlined that the European Union does not join any sort of boycott or sanction against Israel.

Israel, it does not look so happy with the new standard made by the European Union towards the entrance of those Israeli goods in the European Internal Market. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote different European officials (and Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, among the others) to try to block the law. The spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Emmanuel Nahshon, condemned the decision of the European Commission, while Ayelet Shaked, the Israeli Minister of Justice, accused European countries of anti-Semitism.

On the other hand, more than 500 Israeli people, ambassadors and MPs among the others, signed a petition to show their support to this new labelling system, which is going to finally reduce tensions with Palestinians, distinguishing those territories occupied by Israel. Also organizations active in defending human rights (Human Rights Watch and Peace Now) praised the initiative.

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