Proposed EU-Israel trade deal puts EU credibility on human rights at stake

A proposed agreement between Israel and the EU on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) in relation to pharmaceuticals is coming to the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade committees on 24th and 26th April respectively. JfJfP is asking EU citizens to write to their MEPs urging them to oppose the agreement in the interests of maintaining international law on human rights (see Action Alert in side bar).

Human rights and development NGOs ask MEPs to suspend the vote of the EU-Israel ACAA protocol

By EuroMed Human Rights Network

APRODEV, CIDSE, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and the Quaker Council for European Affairs call on the members of the European Parliament involved in the international trade (INTA) committee to postpone its assent to ACAA, the Protocol on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products to the EU-Israel Association Agreement, until Israel’s practices comply with international humanitarian law and human rights law standards. The organisations also call on members of the AFET committee to support such a move.

The need for consistency
The expansion of the EU’s bilateral relations with Israel has to be coherent with the EU’s firm condemnation of Israel’s policies and practices that violate international law. 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). The expansion of these bilateral relations also needs to conform to the EU’s human rights commitments. Article 2 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement states that the “Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement”. An assent to the ACAA Protocol would amount to the acceptance by the EU of Israel’s violations of human rights in its own territory and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).  It would send the signal to Israel that it can expect that its relations with the European Union can be further developed and intensified whilst still continuing its illegal policies inside Israel and inside the OPT. In 2008 the European Parliament withheld assent to the Protocol on the participation of Israel in Community Programs for similar reasons.

An opportunity to apply the “more for more” approach
Furthermore, the assent vote to the ACAA Protocol is an opportunity for members of the European Parliament to apply the more for more (or positive conditionality) principle outlined in the May 2011 communication “A new response to a changing neighbourhood” endorsed by the Foreign Affairs Council in June 2011 and the European Parliament in December 2011. Positive conditionality is an important instrument for the EU to promote democracy and respect for human rights, but should also be used as a crucial tool with its partners engaged in protracted conflicts with a view to promoting peace and stability by upholding international law.[1]

 Apply benchmarks to reflect Israel’s obligations as an Occupying Power
To implement the more for more approach, the May 2011 communication outlines “deep democracy benchmarks” to assess the progress made by neighbouring partners towards building and consolidating democracy and respect for the rule of law. However, these benchmarks fail to take into account the existence of protracted conflicts in the ENP region. Therefore, APRODEV, CIDSE, the EMHRN and the Quaker Council for European Affairs recommend that the EU, including the European Parliament, adopts additional benchmarks drawn from international humanitarian and human rights law to include situations of conflict –  and thus, in the case of Israel, take into account its obligations vis-à-vis the occupied Palestinian population. These benchmarks should include, among others [2]:

–       the protection of civilians based on the basic IHL principles of distinction, military necessity and proportionality;

–       the non-derogable right to life, including the prohibition of extra-judicial killings and the right to be free from torture and ill-treatment;

–       the fundamental right of freedom of movement;

–       respect for a range of economic, social and cultural rights for Palestinians;

–       the prohibition to bring about a fundamental demographic change in the composition of the occupied territory;

–       the prohibition of collective punishment;

–       the right to a fair trial;

–       and the fight against impunity.

When giving its consent vote on agreements signed between the EU and Israel, the European Parliament should first assess Israel’s compliance with these benchmarks. [3]

It is also important to note that Israel does not respect some of the human rights principles contained in the deep democracy benchmarks such as freedom of association and expression and non-discrimination against minorities within its internationally recognised borders.[4]

Given the need for consistency in EU external policy and the continued violations of international law by Israel, APRODEV, CIDSE, the EMHRN and the Quaker Council for European Affairs recommend that members of the European Parliament suspend their assent to the ACAA protocol until Israel makes tangible progress toward the respect of its international law obligations. In general, the undersigning organisations believe that the ‘more for more’ (or ‘less for less’) approach should be applied by the European Union in its relations with all South Mediterranean countries.

[1] For more details on this recommendation, see “EU-Israel Relations: Promoting and Ensuring Respect for International Law”, report published by APRODEV and EMHRN, February 2012. Available here

[2] An update on Israel’s violations of these fundamental human rights and humanitarian law obligations is provided in Annex I of this letter.

[3] For more details on this recommendation, see “EU-Israel Relations: Promoting and Ensuring Respect for International Law”, report published by APRODEV and EMHRN, February 2012, p. 56.

[4] See Annex II for more information about violations of freedom of expression and association as well as discrimination against the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel.

Briefing ACAA

Palestine Committee, Netherlands
January 2012

What is the ACAA Protocol?
The ACAA is the Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products. It is a supplement to the Association Agreement of 2000.

In the field of industrial standards and conformity assessment, the Europe Agreements aim to achieve the candidate countries’ full conformity with Community technical regulations and European standardisation and conformity assessment procedures. They also envisage the conclusion of agreements on mutual recognition in these fields. Agreements on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAAs) are a specific type of mutual recognition agreement based on the alignment of the legislative system and infrastructure of the country concerned with those of the European Community. The ACAA between the EU in Israel will contribute to the elimination of technical barriers to trade, thereby increasing the accessibility of the EU’s markets to Israel and vice-versa.

The sectors concerned are mainly machinery, electrical products, construction products, pressure equipment, toys, medical appliances, gas appliances and pharmaceuticals.

The ACAA is of crucial important to Israel, especially in the pharmaceutical field since the EU is one of Israel’s major export markets for pharmaceuticals. In 2007, the total EU/Israel trade in pharmaceuticals was close to €1bn. The ACAA would allow companies that are registered, and have received certification of standards in Israel, to export their products to the EU without having to obtain a separate certificate of standards from the EU (because Israel would be applying the same standards and certification procedures as the EU). This would benefit Israeli companies and facilitate trade between the EU and Israel in products included under the ACAA.

To implement the Association Agreement, Israel and the EU have to ratify the document through their governmental institutions. The ACAA supplement to the Association Agreement is due to be debated and voted upon within the European Parliament.

In 2007, Israel proposed to upgrade its relations with the EU, what was accepted by the later. In June 2008, during the 8th meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council, the EU linked the resolution of the conflict with the upgrade: “The European Union is determined to develop a closer partnership with Israel. The process of developing a closer EU-Israeli partnership needs to be, and to be seen, in the context of the broad range of our common interests and objectives which notably include the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the implementation of the two-state solution”.
If, currently, the EU maintains there is no prospect for upgrading, the ongoing agreements are de facto upgrading its relations with Israel.

Answering to a question of MEP Caroline Lucas (the Greens) in March 2010 on the ACAA, Stefan Fule, Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, stated that: “In line with its common position expressed at the EU Israel Association Council of June 2009 and reiterated in the Council conclusions of December 2009, the EU considers that the current European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan, adopted in 2005, remains the reference document for our relations with Israel. Therefore, EU Israel bilateral cooperation can continue in all priority areas set out in that Action Plan. ‘Accelerating progress towards bilateral relations leading to an ACAA’, is one such priority”.

In the statement of the latest EU-Israel Association Council, the EU stated it is prepared to further explore with Israel the opportunities still offered by the current Action Plan in a number of sectors and policy areas, on which progress can be achieved in 2011…” The ACAA constitutes one of those “policy areas”.

EU legislative procedure: state of progress
The ACAA was approved by the European Council and signed by the Commission in May 2010 .

To enter into force, it has to be approved by the European Parliament. But first, it has to be put on the agenda of and voted by the Parliament’s committee on international trade (INTA). The procedure goes as follows:
The agreement is put on the agenda of the coordinators of INTA. This group of coordinators, representing the European political groups, implements the agenda for the committee in full.

A rapporteur is named. He makes a report.

On basis of the report, a vote takes place in INT A.

If the outcome of the vote is positive, the issue is then debated and voted upon in the European Parliament plenary, with the European Parliament’s final decision being made at that point.

March 2010: Laima Liucija Andrikiene (EPP, Lithuania) was appointed rapporteur with a view to a plenary vote in December 2010. While it was due to be discussed in the INTA coordinators meeting, the ‘Gaza flotilla raid’ took place (May 31st 2010). Due to concerns about human rights in the region, the coordinators took the decision to delay progress of ACAA until further notice.

In July 2010 and against the decision of her own group’s coordinator, MEP Laima Liucija Andrikiene (EPP, Lithuania), who is also the VC of the Committee on Human Rights, a member of the International Trade Committee and the EP’s rapporteur on the ratification procedure for the ACAA agreement between the EU and Israel, intervened during the International Trade Committee meeting asking for the point on AACA to be put on the agenda.

The answer of the Chair of INTA, MEP Vital Moreira (S&D, Portugal) was the following:
“The topic you mentioned was freezed by a decision of the coordinators, unanimous, including the coordinator of your own political group and with my approval. I will not change this decision unless a decision with equal force is taken by the coordinators, including the coordinator of your group”.

In January 2011, the decision was reviewed by the INTA coordinators but it was decided to maintain their previous decision. In response, the EPP gave the report back to the committee in exchange for points’ compensation. Laima Liucija Andrikiene therefore pulled out.

In March 2011, attempts by the EPP and ECR to link the agreement on agriculture with the PA and ACAA. Moreira (S&D) was appointed rapporteur.

On Wednesday 30th March 2011, the Alliance of Liberal Democrats in Europe (ALDE) took a vote on ACAA. The majority of the ALDE group voted yes to an unfreezing, arguing that amongst other things, the ACAA supplement is an implementation of the 2000 agreement, and that a decision should be left to the full Parliament, not a group of coordinators.

May 23rd 2011: formal decision to unfreeze the discussion on ACAA. The new rapporteur is Moreira.

October 11th 2011: ALDE position is shifting. They seem to have rallied to the Conservatives and are likely to vote in favour of ACAA if it comes to a vote. Moreira (S&D) could not start making his report as long as ALDE was on the side of the Socialists and the Greens but since ALDE members gave their green light to an agenda to be set up and said they were willing to move on, Moreira will start drafting a report which will be voted upon. Socialist MEP Arif Kader asked the committee to first have a meeting with ASHTON, FULE and DE GUCHT. The coordinators agreed. This gives us some time before the procedure moves on.

January 2012: INTA seized AFET for an “opinion”. The AFET commission has to produce a report on the “political environment in which ACAA would be applied”. The report has to highlight the potential implications of the adoption of ACAA on EU’s commitments in respect of International Law and European law. V. De Keyser is the rapporteur for the Socialists. Johannes Cornelis van BAALEN is the rapporteur for ALDE (one of the most pro-Israel MEP of the EP…). AFET must agree upon an opinion, which will first be discussed within the committee and then transmitted to INTA.
Inta key Members
ARIF, Kader (S&D)
Jadot, Yannick (Greens)
Helmut Scholz (GUE)

Currently, there is a strong lobby from the Israeli side to pressure the coordinators to put the item back on the agenda of INTA for a vote. If they succeed, there is, following the current balance of power inside the EP, a great chance that the agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products will be adopted. If so, it will be adopted within the EP, once on its agenda.

Therefore, pressure must be put on members of INTA asking this topic not to be put on the agenda and to keep postponing it until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law:
Considering the linkage the EU itself made between the conflict resolution and the upgrade;
Considering that the ACAA constitutes an upgrade of the EU-Israel relations;
Considering that no changes in Israeli policies were observed since the moment the decision to indefinitely postpone a vote on ACCA;
Considering that the situation on the ground has further deteriorated;

The principles of coherence and consistency are included in the Lisbon Treaty as follows:
Article 10A: ‘The Union shall ensure consistency between the different areas of its external action and between these and its other policies. The Council and the Commission, assisted by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, shall ensure that consistency and shall cooperate to that effect.’

Given the situation of the ground (Gaza, settlements, HOM reports…), and the EU’s position towards the Middle East Peace Process, adopting ACAA would be incoherent and inconsistent with the EU’s external policy positions. Economic policies can not supersede EU’s commitments to Human Rights and international law.

See: Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council
Human Rights and Democracy at the heart of EU External Action – Towards a More Effective Approach

And, more specifically, the part on Trade policy:
The Common Commercial Policy is one of the most visible manifestations of the EU’s external action. The EU’s trade and human rights agenda needs to be coherent, transparent, predictable, feasible and effective. The challenge is to make trade work in a way that helps rather than hinders human rights concerns. The EU approach to trade policy focuses on using positive incentives, making use of trade preferences to promote human rights, coupled with a process of dialogue about the conditions to maintain those preferences.

Moreover, ongoing measures aiming at using all prospects offered by the Action Plan to develop EU-Israel relations negatively affect the efforts aiming at ensuring accountability and responsibility. Like any other state, Israel should be held accountable for its actions.

It is the credibility of the EU in upholding international law that is at stake.

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