On 10 December 2020, thinc. organised an online conference about EU rules on product labeling. The program consisted of two sessions. You may view the recordings of the individual lectures by selecting from the Video Playlist above.
EU Rules on labeling of products from “Occupied Palestinian Territories” – Consumer protection or foreign policy?
Session 1 The status of the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” (OPT)
- Introduction – Labeling of wines from the OPT; the cases of Psagot Wineries (F) and Israel Products Centre (NLD) – Andrew Tucker, thinc. The EU is using its consumer protection legislation to advance its foreign policy on how the conflict should be solved. It is highly questionable whether that is a valid and coherent approach.
- Background – The status of the “occupied territories” and “settlements” under international law – Dr. Matthijs de Blois, thinc. A correct understanding of the legal foundations of the state of Israel challenges the presuppositions of the EU policy, namely that (1) the territories are “Palestinian” (i.e. non-Jewish), and (2) Israeli “settlements” (i.e. Jews living in these territories) are illegal.
- The new US policy concerning labeling of products from Judea and Samaria; is it in line with international law? – Dr. Mark Goldfeder, Emory University Law School, US. To say that these territories are per se illegal is incorrect; at most, the status of these territories is an open question. The US view that settlements are “not per se illegal” is demonstrably true.
- Europe’s labeling policy: what is it and where does it come from? – Andrew Tucker, thinc. The EU considers that the “occupied territories” are not part of Israel, and that “settlements” are illegal. This is an interpretation of international law that developed after the Six Day War. In effect the EU is seeking to retro-actively impose a legal interpretation to justify politically-motivated choices in the 1970’s-1980’s.
Session 2 Labeling of products from settlements in “Occupied Palestinian Territories”
- Are the EU labeling rules discriminatory? – Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, George Mason University, US. The EU rules are manifestly and clearly discriminatory, for two reasons:
- No other country has such a rule. Not even the UAE requires such labelling of products from Judea and Samaria; and
- the EU does not have these rules for any other countries or territories. The Commission does not have this rule even for products from Western Sahara.
- When are labels misleading? – Adv. Jonathan Turner, UK Lawyers for Israel. Whether or not labels are “misleading” is a question of fact. The national courts and tribunals have a duty to apply the law to the specific facts of each case; neither the Commission nor the European Court of Justice has the authority to make binding determinations about what labels are “misleading”. This is a matter of fact to be determined in each case, and depends very much on the specific circumstances of each case.
- Impact of the EU labeling policy on the relations with Israel – Lukas Mandl, Member of the European Parliament. Both the ECJ judgment and the 2015 Interpretative Notice are wrong because they conflict with European values and interests.
- Discussion – How can international law contribute to a new EU approach? – International law actually requires legislation and policy to be transparent, fair and non-discriminatory. These principles mean that the EU needs to develop a new policy towards the Israel/Palestine conflict.
About the conference
EU consumer protection laws protect European consumers by ensuring that they are adequately informed about the products they purchase. In order to ensure that consumers are not “misled”, Regulation 1169/2011 (which is directly applicable in the Member States) requires the labels on food products imported from third countries to correctly indicate the “land of origin” and “place of provenance” of the product. This is a generic piece of legislation that applies equally in all member states, and to all products imported from outside the EU.
Since the 1970’s, the EU has developed a specific foreign and security policy about the resolution of the “Israel-Palestine conflict”. According to the EU, international law means that the territories which Israel took control of in June 1967 are “occupied” territories. The EU considers that these territories are not part of the State of Israel. The EU also considers that international law also requires the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital; its border is the 1949 Armistice Lines, unless the parties agree otherwise.
These two developments – consumer protection and foreign policy – came together when, in 2015, the EU Commission published its Interpretative Notice on indication of origin of goods from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967 (2015/C 375/05). The Notice effectively says that EU law imposes two “obligations”:
- The information concerning products from these specific “occupied” territories may not indicate they are “made in Israel”;
- If, in addition, the product is from an “Israeli settlement”, then the label must state that fact, because such “settlements” are (in the EU’s opinion) illegal, and consumers have a right to know this.
In 2019, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued its judgment in the case of Psagot Wineries. In this case, the Court affirmed the approach outlined in the Notice.
The purpose of this conference was to shed light on the international law aspects of the Interpretative Notice as well as the ECJ’s judgment in the Psagot case.