Answer given by Mr Füle on behalf of the Commission
The Commission welcomed the ‘Brita case’ ruling (February 2010) of the European Court of Justice, which deals with the treatment of products originating in Israeli settlements as regards the application of preferential tariff granted in the framework of the EU‑Israel Association Agreement (AA). This judgment confirmed Commission policy on the issue, which had been consistently applied since 2004. Such policy is implemented by means of a Technical Arrangement (TA) related to Protocol 4 to the AA, which came into effect on 1 February 2005.
It is important to recall, however, that the questions of rules of origin and labelling are very different in nature. The rules of origin and the relevant verification procedures are used to establish the appropriate tariff regime (preferential or not) and to control its application. The rules and procedures related to labelling are meant to provide correct information to the customer. In view of this distinction, the TA signed between the Commission and Israel focused on rules of origin and did not aim to regulate labelling issues. Similarly, as the European Court of Justice was not requested to decide upon the question of the labelling of products imported from Israel, the ‘Brita case’ ruling does not cover this question.
Labelling of goods is an essential part of the EU’s consumer policy. Within this policy, the general principle is the voluntary character of indication of the place of origin on products, with the possibility for mandatory rules in certain specific cases, as explained below.
As far as food products are concerned, Article 11 of Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 laying down inter alia the general principles and requirements of food law(1), foods imported to the EU for placing on the market within the EU shall comply with the relevant requirements of food law, including those related to the labelling.
In particular, all foods shall comply with Directive 2000/13/EC on the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs(2). This directive provides that indication of the place of origin of foods is voluntary (Article 3(1), point 8). It may however be required in cases where consumers might be misled about the true origin or provenance, or in application of specific rules applicable to a number of agricultural products, notably, wine, olive oil, fruit and vegetables, beef and veal, eggs, imported poultry meat, honey and fish. Any labelling and methods however must not be used in such a way as to mislead the purchaser to a material degree (Article 2), but it is up to national authorities to verify the correct application of this rule.
Directive 2000/13/EC allows Member States to introduce mandatory origin labelling if it can be demonstrated that such a measure is necessary to achieve one of the objectives listed in Article 18 of the directive, but such national rules must not create disproportionate barriers to the free movement of goods. Member States shall notify the Commission and other Member States with such draft rules in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 19 of the directive.
Furthermore, Directive 2005/29/EC(3) prohibits unfair business-to-consumer practices in more general terms. Under this directive, indication of the origin or provenance of products is not compulsory. However, where false or misleading information about the geographical or commercial origin of a product can cause a consumer to take a transactional decision which he would not have taken otherwise, this may constitute an unfair commercial practice (Article 6). Misleading omissions (as defined in Article 7) are also prohibited.
The Commission’s proposal for a regulation on the provision of food information to consumers(4), that recasts and updates Directive 2000/13/EC, maintains the principle of voluntary origin labelling unless its omission would mislead the consumer. Furthermore, the proposal provides for additional criteria to ensure that the origin of primary ingredients shall be required when these originate from a different place than that of the finished product.
The Commission's proposal is currently being debated at first reading in the European Parliament and Council and the question of mandatory origin labelling is a major issue of discussion.
In the specific case of labelling of products originating from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, it remains the competence of the national authorities and courts of Member States to apply and enforce EC law. In any event, the origin labelling of products originating from the Israeli settlements should reflect the Commission’s position that, in line with UN Security Council Resolutions and the 1949 Geneva Convention, these settlements are not part of the State of Israel.
Directive 2000/13/EC of the Parliament and of the Council of 20 March 2000 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs, OJ L 109, 6.5.2000, p. 29.
Directive 2005/29/EC of Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2005 concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market and amending Council Directive 84/450/EEC, Directives 97/7/EC, 98/27/EC and 2002/65/EC of Parliament and of the Council and Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 of Parliament and of the Council (‘Unfair Commercial Practices Directive’) OJ L 149, 11.6.2005, p 22.