LUXEMBOURG: A senior adviser to the EU’s top court said Thursday it was his legal advice that products from Israeli-occupied territories must be clearly labelled as such to avoid misleading consumers.
The European Court of Justice is not obliged to follow Advocate General Gerard Hogan’s advice, but the former Irish judge’s legal opinions are seen as highly influential in the bench’s deliberations.
The ECJ is considering a request from France’s top tribunal for clarification of rules on labelling goods from the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, which the international community considers occupied Palestinian land, as well as the Golan Heights, which Israel took from Syria in 1967.
In legal advice to the court, Hogan said that, under EU rules, labels must make it clear if products originate in the occupied territories, and in particular if they come from Israeli settlements in those areas.
“EU law requires, for a product originating in a territory occupied by Israel since 1967, the indication of the geographical name of this territory and, where it is the case, the indication that the product comes from an Israeli settlement,” an ECJ statement outlining Hogan’s legal opinion said.
France published guidelines in 2016 saying products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights must carry labels making their precise origin clear, but this was challenged by the Organization Juive Europeene (European Jewish Organization) and Psagot, a company that runs vineyards in occupied territories.
In his opinion, Hogan said the EU rules on labelling products take into account “ethical considerations” that might influence a consumer’s purchases.
Drawing a comparison with the way many Europeans boycotted South African products during apartheid, Hogan said people now might choose to avoid goods from a particular country “because it pursues particular political or social policies which that consumer happens to find objectionable or even repugnant.”
Referring to legal judgments that Israel’s settlement policy is illegal, Hogan said: “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.
“The absence of the indication of the country of origin or place of provenance of a product originating in a territory occupied by Israel and, in any event, a settlement colony, might mislead the consumer as to the true country of origin or place of provenance of the food,” he said.
The 2016 French ruling drew an angry response from Israel, which accused Paris of aiding a boycott of the Jewish state and of double standards by ignoring other territorial disputes around the world.
A major diplomatic row erupted between the EU and Israel in 2015 when Brussels drew up rules that effectively declared that products from settlements had to be labelled as such across the bloc.