Israel's rigged economy and the European parliament

September 9, 2012
Sarah Benton

A model letter to your MEP, which you may adapt and amend as you like, follows this Opinion on ACAA.

MEPs must take responsibility for their limits on trade with Israel

Opinion, by JfJfP and Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network – Aprodev
September 09, 2012

The European Parliament will shortly be at the centre of the debate about Israeli settlements. Its committee on International Trade (INTA) meets on 18 September for a vote on ‘the Protocol on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products’, better known as the ACAA protocol.

Although in the disguise of a simple commercial agreement, ACAA has already caused a substantial stir amongst human rights organisations and some political circles. Yet international trade is rarely a simple commercial matter. In this case of Israel and the EU it is wishful thinking or wilful dishonesty to insist it is.

The ACAA protocol implies the recognition of an Israeli authority that is competent to act for the settlements in the oPt. Formally the EU does not recognise any such authority. Despite the European commission’s reassurances, we do not believe that sufficient legal safeguards exist in this matter.

Those who are pressing for the new protocol claim it would not be an ‘upgrading’ of EU-Israel relations. In a speech last February on ACCA, the European Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht, said

‘Discussions on a possible “upgrade” of relations started only in 2008, when the 2005 EU-Israel Action Plan was about to expire and when the negotiations on the ACAA had already been launched. Thus, the commitment to conclude an ACAA predates, and is independent from, discussions on an “upgrade”.’

This is at best misleading. Even if ACAA is not a formal ‘upgrade’ of EU-Israel relations as such, it certainly is an important strengthening of the EU’s relations with Israel, arguably marking Israel’s first entry into the single market.

The Trade Commissioner also said ACCA is just ‘a mutual recognition agreement, where by we agree that, in this case, Israeli pharmaceutical products are produced according to the same standards of the EU and our products are recognised as compliant with Israeli standards’. It is, he repeated, ‘no more than a technical agreement’.

According to a new report by Who Profits?, Captive economy – the pharmaceutical industry and the Israeli Occupation (July 2012), the Israeli pharmaceutical industry is deeply involved in the occupation, with devastating consequences for Palestinians in need of basic healthcare. The pharmaceuticals which Palestinians can import are restricted to those which are registered in Israel. Yet Israel wants a free market for its products in the EU. At what price would they set their goods in order to gain this foothold?

Thus we ask UK Members of the European Parliament to suspend their vote on the ACAA protocol both because it is demanding a free market in the EU which it refuses to allow for the people who come under its rule; and because that rule has allowed innumerable breaches of international human rights law.

It is time UK MEPs took responsibility for translating their own positions into actions. We remind them of the lengthy resolution MEPs passed this year on July 5 which reiterated the importance of Israeli duties under international law and ‘called for full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation and EU-Israel bilateral agreements to ensure that the EU control mechanism – the ‘technical arrangements’ – does not allow Israeli settlement products to be imported to the European market under the preferential terms of the EU-Israel Association Agreement.’(MEPs vote that all EU bodies should enforce policies on West Bank and E. Jerusalem.)

The European Parliament can – and should – play a role in shaping a coherent EU foreign policy, precisely because the Lisbon Treaty has granted it the means to do so. In fact, the European Parliament has already suspended the assent procedure on ACAA in June 2010, following the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla. Yet since June 2009 and since the EU decided to freeze the upgrade, the EU has continued to sign agreements with Israel. Only last July, in a shockingly paradoxical move, the EU agreed to implement with Israel 60 new cooperation activities in 15 different fields . None of these activities was made conditional on any progress in Israel’s human rights record.

This is the time for the European Parliament to use its recently acquired powers and remind Israel of its international human rights and humanitarian law obligations. This is the time for the EU to show that it can deliver on its promise to work for just and lasting peace in the Middle East, heal the false dichotomy between ‘simple commerce’ and human rights and bridge the gulf between practice and profession.


Dear ….,

The INTA committee is due to vote on the EU-Israel ACAA protocol on 18 September 2012. On this occasion, we ask you to vote for a suspension of the assent procedure to this protocol until Israel complies with several fundamental international humanitarian law and human rights law standards and until the legal deficiencies of the ACAA protocol, linked to its territorial application, are solved.

The Treaty of the European Union refers to the obligation of the Union to “ensure consistency between the areas of its external action” (Article 21 TEU). In its May 2012 Council Conclusions, the EU firmly condemned Israel’s policies and practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) that violate international law and undermine the two-state solution. In its resolution of 5 July 2012, the European Parliament made similar condemnations of Israeli policies, and affirmed
that the EU’s bilateral relations with Israel must fully take into account Israel’s commitment to respect its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law towards the Palestinian population. The expansion of EU’s trade relations must be coherent with EU’s and European Parliament declarations. The entry into force of ACAA, which would mark the first entry of Israel into the EU single market with important commercial benefits, would be inconsistent with these declarations.

Moreover, in the context of the revision of the European Neighbourhood Policy in 2011, the Council and the European Parliament reaffirmed the principle according to which EU’s relations with Neighbouring countries is conditioned to respect for human rights. In this context, an assent to the ACAA Protocol would amount to the acceptance by the European Parliament of Israel’s violations of human rights in its own territory and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the OPT. It would send the signal to Israel that it can expect its relations with the European Union to be further developed and intensified whilst still continuing illegal policies and practices inside Israel and in the OPT.

Furthermore, according to article 9 of the protocol, the EU and Israel must each nominate a responsible authority which will ensure the conformity of industrial products. They will also determine the territory covered by this authority. Contrary to international law, Israel’s own definition of its territory includes settlements in the OPT and annexed territories. When he addressed the INTA committee on 3 July, Commissioner de Gucht restated the position of the
European Commission that settlements are not part of Israel, but failed to deliver adequate legally binding guarantees which would limit the scope of competence of the Israeli Authority to the internationally recognized territory of Israel. As long as this substantial legal deficiency is not fixed, members of the INTA committee cannot possibly assent to the EU-Israel ACAA protocol.

At a time when the EU, at its latest meeting with Israel in July 2012, has decided to strengthen its relations with Israel by offering 60 new cooperation activities in 16 different fields, it is crucial that MEPs use the new powers received through the Lisbon Treaty to play a role in EU’s foreign policy and send a clear message to Israel that business cannot continue as usual in the context of the continued occupation of the Palestinian territory.

Yours sincerely,

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