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ECJ adviser: Label goods from Israeli settlements

June 13, 2019

The adviser has said that labeling must take "ethical considerations" into account. The advice was given as the top EU court is set to review a labeling policy put in place by France in 2016.

Wines from the Israeli-occupied West Bank
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Hollander

Advocate General Gerard Hogan advised the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Thursday that products originating from Israeli-occupied territories and Israeli settlements should be clearly labeled as such.

Though Hogan's advice is not binding, the court tends to follow the legal suggestions of its advocates general. The ECJ is set to rule on a request submitted by the French Council of State seeking clarification on France's own 2016 guidelines calling for such labeling. 

Those guidelines stipulate that products originating from the West Bank and Golan Heights, both of which are considered occupied territories by the international community, must be clearly labeled.

Though based on an EU "interpretative notice" issued in 2015, the French guidelines go a step further by specifically including the words "Israeli settlements."  

Rather than hear a challenge to the legality of both the EU and French guidelines, the Council of State referred to the ECJ for clarification.

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Lack of adequate labeling would be 'misleading'

Hogan, whose opinions are seen as highly influential, argued that labeling must allow consumers to make choices based on "health, economic, environmental, social, and ethical considerations," adding that to do otherwise would be "misleading."

The former Irish judge, comparing the case to boycotts of South African products during apartheid, said that consumers might be inclined to avoid products from a particular country, "because it pursues particular political or social policies which that consumer happens to find objectionable or even repugnant."

Citing the need for labeling to inform choice, especially as regards the Israeli-occupied territories, Hogan found: "It is hardly surprising that some consumers may regard this manifest breach of international law as an ethical consideration that influences their consumer preferences and in respect of which they may require further information."

Commenting on Hogan's opinion, the Luxembourg-based court wrote: "EU law requires, for a product originating in a territory occupied by Israel since 1967, the indication of the geographical name of the territory and, where it is the case, the indication that the product comes from an Israeli settlement."

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Israel: French guidelines represent a double standard

The issue of labeling such products has been a bone of contention between the EU and Israel since Brussels introduced its interpretative notice in 2015.

Both the EU and French guidelines were challenged by the Organisation Juive Europeene (European Jewish Organization) and Psagot Winery, which operates vineyards in the occupied territories. 

Israel claimed the French rules enabled a boycott of products from the Jewish state and accused Paris of following a double standard for singling out Israel, yet turning a blind eye to other territorial disputes around the world.

Read more: Israel and BDS: A controversial boycott divides the West

Should the ECJ ignore Hogan's legal advice and strike down the French guidelines, he says France would not be allowed to unilaterally impose the labeling requirement.

Israel has occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the Golan Heights, since 1967, in breach of international law. It has also followed a policy of constructing settlements in the occupied territories since that time, which is also in breach of international law.

The Six Day War: Fifty years of occupation and uncertainty

js/ng (AFP, dpa)

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