EU labelling is not what it seems
ISRAEL’S OFFICIAL response to the publication this week of the European Commission’s guidelines on labelling settlement produce was harsh.
Government press offices put out statements protesting over Europe’s “double standards” and announced the suspension of all high-level meetings with European Union officials.
Privately, however, senior officials admitted that the actual financial damage would be relatively small.
Under the new guidelines, published on Wednesday, products coming from the settlements in the West Bank or from eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights will not be allowed to carry the label “produce of Israel” but must say, for example, “produce of the West Bank (Israeli settlement).”
This is the culmination of seven years of wrangling between Israel and the EU. The process was kicked off by former prime minister Gordon Brown who, despite his support for Israel, took the view that goods made in the settlements should not enjoy the preferential tariffs that Israeli exports to the EU receive.
In a letter to High Representative Federica Mogherini, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticised the EU for picking on Israel and ignoring other border disputes such as the disagreement over northern Cyprus,
where the EU does not recognise Turkish control.
However, despite the protests, Israeli officials do not believe that many Israeli products will be affected.
The settlements annually export an estimated $300m worth of goods and little of that goes to the EU.
The estimated damage is no higher thant $50 million a year, out of $12.7 billion worth of goods and services Israel exports to Europe.
In addition, they point out that the EU purposely sought to lower the profile of the announcement. The guidelines were published on November 11, when many countries were observing Remembrance Day and the EU’s heads of state were at a key summit in Malta, discussing immigration with their African counterparts.
Israel’s central complaint is that the move was made despite the recent wave of Palestinian violence and could be construed by the Palestinians as a “prize” for the terror. One of the main concerns in the Israeli Foreign Ministry is not about financial damage but the impetus that the guidelines could give the BDS movement. European envoys in Israel were pointing out on Wednesday that they opposed sanctions and the guidelines were about informing customers of the provenance of products. But it will be up to individual memberstates to enforce them.
“This will give local BDS groups no end of opportunities for agitation and provocations over any shop stocking Israeli produce,” said one diplomat.