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O-000129/2012 (B7-0119/2012)

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Debates
Tuesday, 3 July 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

12. EU-Israel agreement on conformity assessment and acceptance of industrial products (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the debate on the oral question submitted by Vital Moreira, on behalf of the Committee on International Trade, and by Elmar Brok, on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, to the Commission on the EU-Israel agreement on conformity assessment and acceptance of industrial products (CAA); additional protocol to the Euro-Mediterranean agreement (O-000129/2012 - B7-0119/2012).

 
  
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  Vital Moreira, author.(PT) Madam President, I myself submitted this oral question, as Chair of the Committee on International Trade and as rapporteur for this procedure for consent to an international agreement. It concerns a protocol on assessing the conformity and acceptance of industrial products between the European Union and Israel.

Two substantive issues have been raised regarding this agreement. One was raised in the Committee on International Trade regarding political consistency or congruency. The European Union condemns without qualification Israeli policy towards the occupied territories and towards the peace process, on the one hand, yet is willing to upgrade the status of EU-Israel trade relations, on the other.

The second problem – which is the one under discussion now, not the first one – was raised by the Committee on Foreign Affairs when the Committee on International Trade asked for its opinion on the issue of political consistency. The Committee on Foreign Affairs raised this issue: the agreement does not clearly specify the territorial scope of its implementation. What it literally says is that products imported from Israel covered by this protocol, in particular, pharmaceutical products, will enter the EU internal market without requiring a conformity assessment and acceptance of industrial products within the EU, since they have been certified by the competent Israeli authorities, which is the very subject of the agreement.

The issue raised is about knowing whether this can be applied to products not made in Israel’s legal territory, according to the European Union’s understanding that it does not include the occupied territories, or if it excludes all products from these territories. The problem was raised in relation to Article 9 of the protocol, which establishes the existence of authorities on the side of Israel responsible for ensuring this conformity assessment and the acceptance of products exported by Israel to the European Union. They thus benefit from this system of bilateral recognition of reciprocal procedures. Therefore, the issue raised by the Committee on Foreign Affairs, which the Committee on International Trade seconded – meaning that the question is being asked by both committee chairs – comprises four or five questions. I, personally, will focus on the first two.

First, can the Commission ensure, in a legally binding way, that it will not accept, tacitly or otherwise, the territorial jurisdiction of the responsible Israeli authority mentioned in Article 9 of the Protocol including territories under Israeli administration since 1967? The second question, which is related, is can the Commission ensure that no industrial products manufactured in the settlements, in the Israeli occupied territories, in the West Bank settlements or in Eastern Jerusalem will be certified under this protocol?

A clear response to these two questions is essential because it is about knowing the territorial scope of the agreement and understanding this protocol, whose drafting and negotiation was clearly flawed, because this issue obviously must have come up. It is also obvious that the European Union cannot accept that products originating in the occupied territories might benefit from this arrangement with the Israeli authorities. Either the Commission has a unilateral interpretation that clarifies to Parliament that the protocol is applicable only to Israel’s legal territory as the EU understands it, or we have a problem which may influence the decisions of Members comprising the Committee on International Trade, which is the competent committee in this area.

We consider it in the committee’s best interests to give a clear, binding response that the EU will first ... I am concluding, Mr President ... that the Commission will ask for the necessary elements to guarantee that the competent Israeli authority does not have jurisdiction beyond legal Israeli territory and that the protocol cannot be interpreted in any way other than being limited to Israel’s legal territory.

 
  
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  Elmar Brok, author.(DE) Madam President, Mr De Gucht, ladies and gentlemen, I fully endorse what Mr Moreira has said and, therefore, I do not need to repeat the majority of it. The Committee on Foreign Affairs believes that the agreement is sensible and that it should be brought into force once we have positive answers to certain questions. We also consider the provision in the agreement which specifies that essential products should be tested before they are delivered and certified and that this should be followed by mutual recognition to be sensible. This will save a great deal of money and increase the competitiveness of both sides. Therefore, we should support this provision.

As I have said, if certain questions are answered, we will recommend that the Committee on International Trade proposes a vote in plenary on the agreement. Mr Moreira’s questions concern the territorial scope of the agreement and the meaning of Article 9 of the protocol. Does it apply to territories outside the 1967 borders? Are products from the West Bank or East Jerusalem covered by this protocol for the purposes of certification if they come from the settlements? Do products manufactured by Palestinians have the same opportunities for certification and, therefore, are they not being put at a disadvantage in trade terms?

We would like an answer to these questions. There are doubts as to whether this has been resolved from a legal perspective. Parliament’s Legal Service has said that this could be explained unilaterally by the Commission. That would resolve the matter for us. There is also the question of whether this is technically feasible and whether it really is possible to carry out foolproof checks that this has taken place. Mr De Gucht, I have said all that I want to say.

 
  
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  Karel De Gucht, Member of the Commission. – Madam President, thank you for the opportunity to clarify outstanding issues regarding the Agreement on conformity assessment and acceptance (ACAA) between Israel and the EU.

Let me start by recalling what an ACAA is about. Its objective is to eliminate barriers to trade, through allowing products covered by the agreement to enter the markets of the parties without additional conformity assessment procedures, resulting in mutual recognition of conformity assessment and inspection results, which will reduce costs and time for economic operators.

This is typically a response to technical barriers to trade. The Commission considers that the current ACAA text is compliant with the Lisbon Treaty and international law and that no change or renegotiation is necessary. The Commission would like to provide the following assurances to the Parliament:

First, the ACAA is a Protocol to the EU-Israel association agreement. Therefore, while not defining it, its scope of application is the same as set out in Article 83 of the association agreement. As it results from international obligations of the EU and as confirmed by the European Court of Justice in 2010 in the Brita case, the EU does not recognise Israeli jurisdiction over the territories placed under Israeli administration after 1967. The Commission will observe this position in the implementation of the ACAA.

Secondly, when the agreement enters into force, the Commission will have to acknowledge under Article 9 of the ACAA the responsible Israeli authority which will have to deliver conformity certificates. This acknowledgement will not entail any recognition of Israeli jurisdiction over territories placed under Israeli administration after 1967.

You can also rest assured that, upon receipt of the Israeli notification of its responsible authority, the Commission will expressly state that acknowledgement is granted only on the basis that the territory covered by the responsible authority does not include the territories brought under Israeli administration in 1967.

Separately, I would like to recall that the ACAAs are not based on the product origin but on mutual trust in the quality of the certification and inspection bodies. ACAAs recognise that certifiers in third countries certify industrial products in the same way as in EU Member States. In practice, the EU will recognise whatever product is certified by Israel, whatever its origin, Israeli or not.

For practical reasons, and for reasons of compliance with WTO’s non-discrimination rules, these agreements cannot discriminate or exclude on the basis of origin. This is also in line with the EU acquis.

These rules also apply under the ACAA to the Israeli Responsible Authority, which could – under certain conditions – certify not only Israeli products but also those from third countries once the ACAA is in force. In the same vein, Israeli and EU Member State Responsible Authorities could also certify products from the occupied territories.

However, as stated before, this does not and cannot imply any recognition of Israel’s jurisdiction over these territories. According to information received from Israeli authorities and NGOs, there is currently no pharmaceutical production in Israeli settlements. Therefore, Israel cannot discriminate against Palestinian products in the certification process because Israel will have to apply the EU acquis.

Like any EU Member State, Israel must carry out inspections irrespective of the origin of the product when a request is received. If there were cases of discrimination, the Palestinian manufacturer could lodge a complaint with the Israeli judicial authorities. Of course, the Commission could also use existing means under the association agreement to ensure that Israel implements the ACAA.

Turning to the 2005 Technical Arrangement which allows the EU to identify and deny preferential treatment under the association agreement to goods produced in areas beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders, it must be recalled that preferential treatment in terms of customs tariffs is an entirely different issue to conformity assessment and that the origin of the product fully keeps its relevance when the certified product is to enter the territory of the EU.

There have been cases of abuse, which have been detected and tackled appropriately, but they are few and insignificant in volume of trade. The Commission is presently working on a modification of the system, including the publication of a list of settlement codes, which will increase awareness of EU importers and will allow customs authorities to verify these declarations more effectively.

Finally, the Foreign Affairs Council, on 14 May, held a substantive discussion on the Middle East peace process and agreed, inter alia, that the EU will assess whether existing legislation, in particular, in the area of labelling, is being fully and effectively implemented.

 
  
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  Daniel Caspary, on behalf of the PPE Group.(DE) Madam President, Mr De Gucht, I would like to thank you very much for your very clear statement. I think that from my point of view, you have answered the questions which were causing us concern.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would be pleased if we could finally make some progress with this dossier. It is only an additional protocol to an association agreement and it has spent a long time in Parliament. I very much doubt whether the length of time is appropriate given the actual content. We were supposed to be considering this dossier at the same time as a trade agreement with the Palestinian territories. I very much regret the fact that we often have double standards in this House. On the one hand, we have rightly applied considerable pressure and have said that we want the law to be complied with and our political requirements to be met. However, months ago, we adopted the agreement with the Palestinian territories with a broad majority here in Parliament, despite the fact that they are still imposing the death penalty and other similar matters. I want to make it very clear that I would like to see a much more logical approach to voting and debating among the groups.

In my view, Mr De Gucht, and, after the intense debate this afternoon, this is genuinely not meant seriously, there is only one thing which could prevent us voting in favour of this agreement. Therefore, I would like to ask you whether you can assure us that this additional protocol will not lead to Internet service providers being forced to monitor data, the introduction of the ‘three-strikes’ policy through the back door or other restrictions on freedom of speech on the Internet or in Romania. I would be very grateful if you could turn your attention to this.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: EDWARD McMILLAN-SCOTT
Vice-President

 
  
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  Véronique De Keyser, on behalf of the S&D Group.(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, I really appreciate the clarifications you have given us.

I think that you have tried to answer our questions very seriously and I was about to ask you whether the Commission is committed to rejecting, under Article 9 of the Agreement on conformity assessment and acceptance (ACAA), the appointment of an Israeli authority that would not exclude settlements within its jurisdiction. I think that you have answered my question and that you will be very vigilant with regard to the appointment of this authority. I want to believe you on this issue and on others.

I still have two regrets, or rather one concern and one source of bitterness. The first concern relates to control mechanisms. If we, in Parliament, show our agreement with the ACAA, how will we be kept informed about the various controls that the Commission will surely put in place and how will we be able to verify them? I have no answer on this subject, but this question will undoubtedly be back on the table in good time.

The second thing is a source of bitterness, and of anger. I share Mr Moreira’s opinion and I find that, on this issue, which is, of course, a pharmaceutical issue for the time being, the question of human rights, the question of political context, has not been raised, or at least it has not been raised here. It is a major issue nonetheless. This famous human rights clause, which features in our trade agreements, are we sure that it is being upheld today? I will admit that I have lost this battle and I will accept that. I will not mention it again. I am very aware of the agreements that I have made with Mr Brok on this matter and I will vote as needs be. However, I find it mind-boggling and insane that in this Parliament, people can be concerned about what is happening with regard to the expansion of settlements and, at the same time, not be concerned in the slightest with voting for a trade agreement which will, of course, have many advantages for us, as it will for Israel, but which, I fear, will do nothing for the Palestinians.

 
  
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  Marietje Schaake, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, today we are discussing the oral question that seeks to clarify in a binding way appropriate measures to ensure that the EU will not import medicines or other pharmaceutical products from the occupied territories. This is in line with our policies across all imports from Israel, as well as exports. It is now both what Israel and Commissioner De Gucht have said, so it should also apply to these products in the wake of this protocol.

When we talk about the technical implementation of a protocol to a trade agreement, some context and background are important, as it is undeniable that the political discussions have taken the upper hand in this House when dealing with this dossier. When it comes to Israel or the Middle East peace process, we have to be careful not to be so divisive ourselves that we become part of the problem instead of the solution.

Clearly, the EU has a responsibility to lead in protecting and promoting universal human rights worldwide. We believe trade agreements are an important lever and I think we should not shy away from firmly invoking conditionality clauses, especially those on human rights. However, to appropriately address the serious problem of the illegal settlements that the current government of Israel continues to build, this may not be the tool. We either have to use the conditionality at association agreement level or find other ways. To start with, this protocol means we are turning procedures upside down and that will have an adverse effect. If nothing else, the procedural journey that this protocol has made through the EU makes us all less credible, and that is not what we need. Instead, trade and human rights should align in the EU’s external actions.

The ALDE Group hopes the answer to this oral question will provide clarity so that we can put the protocol to a vote. It is then up to Members of this House to vote according to their conscience, as we always do, even on difficult and politicised issues. However, with or without this protocol, I once again urge the Israeli Government to stop the illegal settlements and to move closer to the EU and the international community. Getting by on a day-by-day basis is not the same as a sustainable two-state solution, which moves further away with every settlement built. That is irresponsible towards Israeli citizens in a dramatically uncertain and changing neighbourhood.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Marek Siwiec (S&D), Blue-card question.(PL) Do you think that access to good inexpensive medication for EU citizens is being used as a means of exerting pressure on Israel to change its policies or make its policies more acceptable? Is it morally right to address this problem, the immense political problem of peace in the Middle East, in the context of a technical trade matter, as the Commissioner referred to it? Is it morally right to have to wait for this decision for so many months and, by employing parliamentary obstruction, so significantly delay the vote which is now, finally, about to take place?

 
  
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  Marietje Schaake (ALDE), Blue-card answer. – Thank you for the question because it allows me to clarify the matter.

I hope that it was clear from my introduction on behalf of the ALDE Group that we are ready to put this protocol to a vote where Parliament can take its decision on whether to go ahead or not, and not to persist with procedural questions as is the case at the moment.

If we want to address the very urgent human rights violations in Israel, this, in my view, is not the appropriate way.

 
  
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  Nicole Kiil-Nielsen, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, you will be aware that in several Member States, including France, it is consumer associations and human rights organisations which carry out controls on the origin of products labelled ‘Made in Israel’, and these groups regularly denounce the presence on our markets of products originating in illegal settlements. It is not a rare occurrence. In a spirit of ethical consumption, civil society therefore tries to ensure the traceability of products imported from Israel, as the European Union has shown that it is incapable of implementing the 2005 technical agreement in accordance with international law.

You will understand that I am very sceptical and dubious that you will give us guarantees, as you should, on legally binding provisions ensuring that no more products from the settlements are entering the European market.

I should like to point out that, with regard to medicines, the children of Gaza not only do not have medicines, but do not even have access to drinking water or enough food to sustain themselves.

I think it is important to keep in mind the global context, which, from a humanitarian and human rights point of view, is a dramatic context, and we cannot content ourselves with simply talking about trade without talking about that.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Mr President, the ECR Group believes, with regard to the EU-Israel ACAA, that the concerns raised in the joint oral question from the Committee on International Trade and the Committee on Foreign Affairs are unfounded and confused, as this agreement is not about the territorial provenance of pharmaceutical products, but the right for competent Israeli authorities to certify medicines that they examine as being up to EU standards.

There are already separate stringent EU-wide rules about goods arriving from the West Bank and Gaza and what EU tariffs should apply to them. ACAA is a purely technical agreement and has become a highly politicised one as part of an Israel-bashing exercise which does nothing to facilitate access to high-quality and affordable pharmaceutical products for our European consumers.

The ACAA has been delayed far too long in this Parliament and the Committee on International Trade should move swiftly to a vote on the agreement, thus facilitating a decision on Parliament’s assent at a future plenary vote, which should likewise take place without any further delay.

I strongly believe in upgrading EU-Israel trade relations under the association agreement.

 
  
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  Kyriacos Triantaphyllides, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (EL) Mr President, Commissioner, it is high time that the European Union abided by its own commitments and undertakings. Under Article 2 of the association agreement, we must not improve trade relations with Israel while there is daily proof that it is guilty of human rights violations.

Any such improvement both infringes the agreement and neutralises the only specific instrument at our disposal for putting pressure on Israel to honour its obligations in terms of human rights and humanitarian law, both inside Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories.

We are therefore against giving our consent to this agreement. The only condition on which the European Parliament could agree would be in return for satisfactory assurance that the EU will ban imports of Israeli goods from East Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories.

How will you ensure that products from the occupied Palestinian territories are not being imported into the European Union under false certificates of origin? Will you create a simple, effective and reliable mechanism to establish their origin, such as product labelling to replace the current technical arrangement, as called for by the European Parliament in its resolution dated 10 February?

 
  
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  Bastiaan Belder, on behalf of the EFD Group. (NL) Mr President, it is beyond doubt that the agreement between the EU and Israel on the acceptance of each other’s pharmaceutical products will benefit consumers. Previous parliamentary questions on the agreement, whether legal or relating to implementation, have been unambiguously answered, both by the Council and the Commission. Why does Parliament not then respond affirmatively?

Nevertheless, I welcome the oral questions tabled by the Committee on International Trade and the Committee on Foreign Affairs because, at long last, the ACAA dossier that has been knocking around for a long time has finally been included on the plenary agenda. I hope and trust that this important trade agreement between the EU and Israel will come up for debate and a vote as soon as possible in a plenary parliamentary sitting. I strongly urge, in particular, both the Committee on International Trade, which carries primary parliamentary responsibility for this ACAA dossier, and the rapporteur to ensure that is the case. I also thank the Commissioner for his clear answers to the questions. I hope that we have finally put this dossier to bed and that we will proceed with the order of the day.

 
  
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  Adrian Severin (NI). – Mr President, I want to thank Commissioner De Gucht for his important clarification.

The real problem of this agreement is neither technical nor legal. It is strictly political. Namely, it is about trying to impose our political views on Israel through trade leverages. This did not work in the past, and will definitely not work in the future. If we want to promote our values, we must first secure our geostrategic interests, otherwise our values are both in vain and in peril.

Our strategic interest in the present context of major turmoil in the Middle East requires strengthening our ties and cooperation with Israel. Therefore, and to this end, we should ratify ACAA now and not later. Procrastination is not a solution.

 
  
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  Christofer Fjellner (PPE). – Mr President, we are going from one heated debate, ACTA, to another heated debate, ACAA. Time and again, we have been postponing and obstructing the ACAA, using different filibusters and trying to do everything we cannot to do what we know is needed. The only consequence is that we are postponing something that would help patients in Europe, that would give more choice in terms of medicines, and that would deliver greater competition and lower prices, even though everybody here knows it is about standards and that there are no medicines produced in the occupied territories. So how could this question even be relevant in this context? Even if there were medicines produced there, you know that these standards should apply to Israeli-produced medicines and to imported medicines, no matter where they come from.

The Israeli Government has a clear commitment to applying these standards. That is what it is all about. But sadly, this House has managed to hijack this question and make it into another part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the detriment of patients throughout Europe. That is a shame. Remember that we had an agreement and a debate on an agreement with Palestine – quite recently actually – and, at that time, we had the courage not to do what we are doing here. We judged it on its own merits and approved it. We should do the same thing right here and right now.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Véronique De Keyser (S&D), Blue-card question.(FR) Mr Fjellner tells us that this is about medicines. At the moment, yes, and the occupied territories are not producing them at present. However, we all know that what we are being asked for in the Agreement on conformity assessment and acceptance (ACAA) is a certification framework, and that today, it is about medicines. Tomorrow, other items may be addressed for which Parliament will no longer be asked to give its consent. We therefore have to go further and it could apply to other products manufactured in the settlements. Is Mr Fjellner aware of that?

 
  
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  Christofer Fjellner (PPE), Blue-card answer. – Ms De Keyser, I am happy to hear that you have read the agreement and know that it is about medicines. But again, even though it is about medicines, you acknowledge the fact that there are no medicines produced there. If there were other products and other agreements, let us judge those products and agreements on their merits and not try to kidnap this and say we cannot do this even though we know it is right.

 
  
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  David Martin (S&D). – Mr President, I could not disagree more with Christopher Fjellner on this subject. It may be a technical upgrade of the relationship with Israel but there is no doubt there is a highly politicised move at this time. Adopting the ACAA is entirely out of sync with the EU’s ambition for policy coherence between trade, human rights, development and foreign policy.

Tomorrow, we will vote on a resolution on EU policy in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Let us be coherent about how we tackle the suffering in the occupied territories and the increased trade benefits we give to Israel. We cannot turn a blind eye to the serious escalating human rights violations when we upgrade a trade agreement. More trade and easier trade should never be at the expense of upholding our commitments to human rights. The collective punishment of Gaza is unacceptable and until serious steps are taken by Israel to comply with international law, I strongly oppose this upgrade.

I hope that the Commission is able to give detailed answers on how the ACAA would function in practice and how we would ensure that products manufactured in the settlements do not fall under the scope of the protocol. I disagree with Christofer’s analysis that this is never going to happen.

This clarification would help with the ACAA but, at the moment, even with that clarification, I strongly believe it would be wrong in terms of policy coherence to upgrade our relationship with Israel and I will continue to oppose the ACAA until the situation between Israel and the Palestinians improves.

 
  
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  Niccolò Rinaldi (ALDE). (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, there have been delays in dealing with this agreement in the Committee on International Trade (INTA), but there are many other very different kinds of delays on the ground with regard to improving the condition of the Palestinian population. This is a debate on how to prevent products from the settlements from benefiting from this agreement – this is a red line that cannot be crossed. I appreciate what the Commissioner has said, but it is also true that so far, we have not had any mechanisms that have worked.

It is also a debate on the political impact of this agreement, because I believe, indeed I fear, that its adoption would be interpreted as opening a credit line in favour of a government that does not give much credit, so to speak, to questions from the European Union. No tangible progress in the resumption of negotiations, much less on the continued expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem, much less with regard – apart from some modest progress – to the Gaza blockade.

For this reason, the treatment of this dossier is more than technical; it is a highly political dossier, not a trivial one, and we call upon the Commission to assess how a trade policy measure can, as is normal in this context, become a foreign policy act on the ground.

 
  
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  Geoffrey Van Orden (ECR). – Mr President, it seems that every aspect of trade relations with Israel is used by some as an opportunity, directly or indirectly, to attack the State of Israel. How much better to recognise that here is a country of nearly eight million people with a standard of living higher than many EU Member States. It has turned desert into productive agricultural land, led the way on desalination technologies, and is home to a phenomenal number of start-up companies and a vibrant democracy.

What a contrast to those around. How much the Palestinians could learn and benefit from this if they were given the opportunity by their own leaders, if they recognised the right of Israel to exist, ended terrorism and hostility and moved forward in a positive spirit with negotiation of a two-state solution.

Those seeking to pick holes in the EU-Israel ACAA protocol should ask themselves a simple question: do we want to bring about peace and prosperity for Palestinians or do we wish to condemn another generation to a life of poverty, hardship and insecurity?

On the specific matter in hand, EU policy is clear, namely, that occupied territory products cannot benefit from preferential treatment under the technical arrangement and the EU-Israel association agreement. However, as the Commission itself has said, cases of abuse are neither numerous nor significant. There is no case for changing the technical arrangements and the ACAA protocol should be supported unhindered.

 
  
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  Ria Oomen-Ruijten (PPE). (NL) Mr President, today we have a technical protocol before us, but we have said many times that international trade is not just about economic and commercial considerations. If we look at our own European Convention, we see that the action of the European Union rests on the pervasiveness of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms and compliance with the principles of the UN Charter and international law. The relationship between Israel and the EU, and the association agreement between them, must also be tested against all of that.

With today’s protocol, we need to be 100% certain that the provisions of the protocol do not apply to goods or products produced in the occupied territories, because that is politics. We need to ask ourselves what signal we would be sending out if we simply accepted this protocol without questioning it.

Because, unfortunately – and this is down to politics – the comprehensive peace agreement that we all want will not come about through the settlements issue. A debate on a protocol such as the one we are having today provides the European Union with several levers to ensure that the parties come closer to each other. Mr President, I will be voting in favour tomorrow, but I will be doing so with the proviso that the protocol is properly supervised by the European Commission.

 
  
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  Emer Costello (S&D). – Mr President, I would like to thank the Commissioner for his clarifications today, which are useful. There are the legal issues that have been raised, and you have attempted to answer some of those, Commissioner. Then there are political and indeed – as some colleagues have said and I agree with them – policy coherence issues.

On the one hand, we have the legal issues. Does the Commission consider that it has the legal authority to reject or geographically restrict the territorial scope of the agreement? What binding assurances can the Commission give Parliament that it will not accept, tacitly or otherwise, that the territorial competence of Israeli authorities covers the Palestinian Territories? There are widespread reports of circumvention of current rules governing control of Israeli settlement goods, so can the Commission clarify whether it intends to review or reinforce this, or how this ACAA should be monitored?

But, at the same time, as the Commission provides the legal clarifications, I have to ask myself, irrespective of the legal arguments, is it coherent or credible for the EU to consistently and forcefully criticise the Israeli authorities? We had the motion with the oral question last month, we have the resolution that we will be voting on tomorrow, so is it coherent to pass these resolutions, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to enhance our trade relationship through ratifying ACAA which – while I accept it is not technically an upgrading, given that it is based on the existing association agreement – in practice, does allow access for Israeli pharmaceuticals to one of the most lucrative markets in the world? I think that we have to take all of those issues into consideration.

 
  
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  Sarah Ludford (ALDE). – Mr President, I also thank Commissioner De Gucht for his very clear answers, though they only confirmed what we already knew. It is time to get on and vote on this agreement.

Two years of discussion in committee has been a delaying tactic. As Commissioner De Gucht said, the objective of the ACAA is to eliminate barriers to trade by reducing costs and delays. I am rather astonished that many on the Committee on International Trade want to constrain trade and keep up costs. You are doing consumers and patients no favours on choice and price of medicines.

I hope that, if there are Palestinian pharmaceutical products, they will also benefit from easier export to the EU under this protocol. On the question of trade and human rights, I have no hesitation whatsoever in criticising settlements or administrative detention by Israel or the many human rights breaches by the two Palestinian administrations. Trade is not at the expense of human rights. I have to say, as Vice-Chair of the US delegation, that has never stopped me criticising human rights problems like rendition in Guantánamo in the United States and it will not stop me on Israel either.

 
  
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  Paweł Zalewski (PPE).(PL) Mr President, this is yet another trade agreement that has become a hostage to a political situation in a country which is a partner of the European Union. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is actually far older than the history of the independent State of Israel. If we believe that the European Union can use this agreement as a means of positively influencing the development of Israeli-Palestinian relations, we are either mistaken or guilty of great arrogance.

This conflict remains unresolved and highly inflammatory because of policies on both sides, namely, the Palestinian authorities (not ordinary Palestinians, of course), and also Israel. I refer to settlements we do not recognise which are being established on the occupied territories. I have to admit that this is an enormous problem for those who, like myself, wish the state of Israel well, are mindful of the importance of this place, this country, this democracy which is developing exceptionally well in the Middle East, and who are also conscious of the enormous danger it faces.

Nevertheless, I would expect all those who criticise the Agreement on conformity assessment and acceptance of industrial products (ACAA) to put forward instead a grand, comprehensive plan, which we, as the European Union could – together with the United States – present to both sides to encourage them to talk. Clearly, the ACAA is not such a plan, but our failure to adopt it solely and exclusively to punish the State of Israel will ultimately penalise Europeans. European citizens will not be able to benefit from good, high-quality and inexpensive generic medicines, which are produced in Israel and not in the occupied territories. I therefore call upon everyone to vote in favour of the ACAA.

 
  
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  Josefa Andrés Barea (S&D).(ES) Mr President, I would like to thank Mr Moreira for his question on this subject, because it could clarify and shed light on the situation.

We are dealing with a protocol to an agreement to align the legislative system of Israeli and EU infrastructure, but we need some clarifications and I would like to ask two questions. Firstly, are the Palestinian occupied territories part of the Israeli national market? Secondly, why is there not a human rights clause in this agreement?

With regard to product quality control and particularly in terms of the strict requirements concerning drugs, we are not against generic drugs. Quite the contrary, we think they are much more accessible, but we want guarantees. We want quality to be a requirement. Consequently, what certification is there going to be, and what knowledge are we going to have in Parliament regarding the quality certification of the drugs that are going to be produced in Israel?

 
  
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  Laima Liucija Andrikienė (PPE). – Mr President, I thank Commissioner De Gucht for his substantial answer, which clarifies the concerns raised by the Committee on International Trade and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. I believe it is a step forward to make Parliament and the International Trade Committee ready for their final decisions on this issue and to give European patients access to high-quality pharmaceutical products.

We all know that this protocol has been under consideration in the European Parliament for more than two years. I hope two years is more than enough to discuss in depth, to scrutinise all possible aspects of this agreement, and to verify benefits and risks to European markets and European citizens. I am sure that it is time to give a green light to the implementation of the agreement.

As has been rightly pointed out today by Commissioner De Gucht, this protocol is part of the Euro-Mediterranean Agreement, which came into force in 1995, establishing an association between the European Communities and their Member States and the State of Israel. Its Protocol 5 defines measures and rules on mutual assistance between administrative authorities on customs matters.

It is important to mention today that there are instruments in place to detect cases of abuse. These instruments are legally binding and have been used in the past. The Commission proposed additional improvements and measures to be applied in order to strengthen customs procedures and verify conformity requirements and country of origin declarations.

I believe that legal measures are sufficient. They are functional and they are transparent. I believe that the International Trade Committee should move to a vote on the agreement without delay, facilitating a decision on consent to this agreement to be voted on in the plenary session following our summer recess.

 
  
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  Gianluca Susta (S&D).(IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, while we appreciate the care with which they were formulated, your answers only partly give us peace of mind. We are facing a highly political issue, not just a commercial one: formal consistency between this agreement and the more general association agreement with Israel cannot justify the sort of subterfuge that facilitates infringing the prohibition that international law has imposed on Israel regarding products made in the occupied territories.

I understand our economic interests, I also understand the technical scope of this protocol, but I believe the European Union should undertake a careful review of the origin of the products, because no protocol or agreement can ignore the more general context which prevails today. The repeated violations on this point by Israel do not help the process of détente which we all feel is required and which needs the European Union to be an active part of the solution.

 
  
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  Cristiana Muscardini (PPE).(IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I have been in this Parliament for 23 years, and each time the issue of Israel is debated, out come gut reactions rather than technical, concrete debates. Parliament is stuck regarding ideological and political conflicts between those who are for or against Israel which, being matters not falling within the scope of the agreement being debated, unnecessarily hold up negotiations.

The opportunity for Israeli businesses to manipulate the protocol agreement in order to export goods to the occupied territories is offset by the possibility of sending back such products at EU borders under the so-called ‘technical agreement’, whereby the customs authorities of Member States may reject declarations of conformity for goods and products whose origins are in serious doubt.

This is apart from the fact, incidentally, that if the Council had approved the regulation on the designation of origin, we would not be having this problem. I therefore hope the Committee on International Trade (INTA) will vote on this agreement as soon as possible and that the debate in the committee is more about reducing technical barriers to trade and will not continue to get bogged down in manipulating a non-existent problem. We must come and vote in plenary, because this agreement has been waiting too long to provide Europe and Israel with a document.

 
  
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  Paul Murphy (GUE/NGL). – Mr President, the debate today is extremely important; it goes beyond the concrete and entirely justified questions which have been posed to the Commission today in relation to the legal and constitutional concerns about ACAA. This debate is not a technical debate, it is a political debate, and the heart of the question again – which we come back to time and again on international trade agreements and related aspects here in Parliament – is whether the commitments in words to human rights by the European Parliament and the EU will last when faced with commercial interests of European big business and also, in this case, when faced with a political agenda of support for Israel.

Fundamental for me is the point that we cannot go ahead with ACAA when there is a continuation of oppression of the Palestinians, an expansion of Israeli settlements and a continuation of the occupation. A number of MEPs argue in favour, because they say that EU patients would have access to a broader range of generic and branded medicines. That is extremely hypocritical in this case, given the conditions that I saw at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, which does not have 150 out of 450 essential medicines. When I was there, they did not have the necessary surgical gloves. We cannot go ahead with this agreement while those conditions prevail.

 
  
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  Christofer Fjellner (PPE), Blue-card question to David Martin. – Mr President, it is fascinating because I have heard the phrase ‘it’s political’ so many times today, first in connection with ACTA and now with ACAA. The fascinating thing is that when we discussed ACTA, the fact that it was a political decision was an argument to vote as soon as possible. But here with ACAA, the fact that it is political is now a reason to prolong and obstruct everything as long as possible.

But what I wanted to ask Mr David Martin is this – and, David, as you know, I really respect you: if you think signing now is such a bad thing to do and that we should use it as a political tool, why did you not say the same thing when we had the vote on the Palestinian Agreement if you think it is important to use this as a tool?

 
  
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  David Martin (S&D), Blue-card answer to Christofer Fjellner. – Mr President, very simply, the Palestinians are not holding Israeli children in jails, the Israelis are holding Palestinian children in jails against international law. The Israelis are conducting a blockade on Gaza, which is wholly against international law, they impose collective punishment of citizens, and I could go on. Israel is completely out of sync with international law.

Contrary to what colleagues have been saying today, it is not the greatest democracy in the Middle East. It is not a democracy, because certain people who reside within the Israeli borders are not entitled to vote in that country.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, I, too, endorse the stance taken by Mr Fjellner and I regret that the ACAA with Israel has been postponed for so long. I should stress that its signing does not mark a new phase in relations but rather the implementation of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. In this context, I think that it was unjustified to delay the decision for a very long time. I hope that today’s debate will be the final chapter in this controversy, after which Parliament will finally give its consent. This is why I call on the Commission to provide all the clarifications requested by some of my colleagues, so that we can overcome the current deadlock. I should also mention that the report on Israel’s involvement in EU programmes, for which I am the shadow rapporteur, has also been blocked for a very long time by the Committee on Foreign Affairs. I hope that this situation can be resolved to allow cooperation with Israel to progress.

 
  
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  Cristian Silviu Buşoi (ALDE). – Mr President, I would like to thank Commissioner De Gucht for his explanations.

This agreement between the EU and Israel was referred to Parliament two years ago and the consent procedure has been postponed ever since due to political considerations that I personally do not subscribe to.

I think the agreement is good and one which the EU and Israel need because it will facilitate the trade in medicines between the two countries with benefits in terms of health care for our patients. Many patients in the EU do not have access to proper treatment for diseases, especially those suffering from rare diseases. The agreement could change this situation, because Israel is one of the top innovators in the health care sector. Agreeing on the rules concerning the conformity assessment and acceptance of these products will facilitate the entry on the market of innovative treatments which our patients need. I therefore think that it is the right time to stop delaying the procedure and approve this agreement.

 
  
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  Margrete Auken (Verts/ALE).(DA) Mr President, this debate has shown that the agreement is, to a degree, political. It is therefore a campaign to get an upgrade for Israel. From both sides, on the part of the Palestinians, but also on the part of large parts of the Arab world, an upgrade and recognition of ACAA will be seen as a reward. Those of us who have been to the area have heard this said very clearly so many times, and it was also said when Palestine’s foreign minister was here, so let us be open about it now. This will be a reward and it will be a case of ‘more for less’, because human rights are going backwards at the moment, and yet we are, in fact, giving Israel a better opportunity. I do not believe that anyone here – in response to those who say that we are only after Israel – would not want an Israel that lived in peace and democracy within recognised borders, borders recognised by both Israel and us, and with whom we would be pleased to trade. However, we do not want to trade with a country that will not actually comply with our fundamental values.

 
  
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  Fiorello Provera (EFD). (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, as we have said, this is a protocol of a technical nature relating to the production of pharmaceutical products, and has already been negotiated by the Commission and approved by the Council in 2010. It cannot be considered as an upgrade of relations with Israel, as Baroness Ashton declared here in Parliament.

The Commission has also stated that no changes are needed to this agreement and, moreover, the high quality of the medicinal products involved and the economic benefits for national health care systems have been confirmed. The Italian health care system, for example, would save millions of euro in patient care costs.

My conviction is that in fact, opposition to this agreement is of a purely political nature, with the aim of boycotting Israel. Those who oppose this agreement for political reasons should therefore also oppose trade agreements with China, which is occupying Tibet, with Russia, occupying part of Georgia, Armenia, occupying Nagorno-Karabakh, and with any states guilty of serious human rights violations, which amounts to two-thirds of humanity.

 
  
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  Frédérique Ries (ALDE).(FR) Mr President, I would like to say a few words about the procedure.

I have been following this debate, Commissioner, since it was in Parliament’s hands, that is, since March 2010. Since then, we have had two and a half years of postponements, delays, questions, ping-pong matches, in other words, obstacles to the agreement, and that includes the latest questions put to you. No medicine is produced in the territories and everyone knows it. These are purely rhetorical questions.

This parliamentary – we could even say buccaneering – obstruction is not worthy of our Parliament, which, less than an hour ago, was championing transparency on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), as we heard, calling for that same transparency from the Council, as it has done again this morning. Some people here are, in a non-transparent way and behind the scenes, waging a real war of shadows against the Agreement on conformity assessment and acceptance (ACAA). No matter what some people might think of this agreement, I do not believe that it is up to them to stop others from expressing their opinion on the subject.

Commissioner, I hope that your very specific and detailed answers will have reassured the Committee on International Trade (INTA) and our Parliament so that they can stop being held hostage on the matter and can finally, in good faith, express their true feelings on this issue, whether they are for or against. It is worth mentioning that this is an agreement which concerns free trade in pharmaceutical products and, therefore, the health of the world’s citizens.

 
  
 

End of the catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Karel De Gucht, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, nothing is entirely technical and nothing is entirely political and you will always have this mixture in the kinds of matters that are discussed in this Parliament as in any other parliament in the world. On the other hand, I think the political stance of the European Union with respect to Israel is clear: we do not recognise the settlements. We have to apply the existing legislation with respect to the settlements in the way that has been voted upon and the same goes for possible additional legislation with respect to the settlements. That is as a starting point: we do not recognise them.

What I have been doing is giving you the assurances that in good faith I can give you. They are not watertight, and all we can do is to do everything possible to monitor what we have been deciding so as to make sure that no products from the settlements come on to our markets. That is not only relevant to the ACAA, there are many other provisions and many other DGs that are implicated in this and what I will take upon myself is to have a coordination meeting of the different DGs and services so that we can in the future – probably, hopefully – better monitor what is really happening.

There were many other questions, for example, on the fact that human rights provisions are not included in the ACAA. The same goes for many other provisions. It is a protocol to an existing association agreement, which means that anything that is provided for in the association agreement, for example, in respect to human rights, also, of course, applies to the protocols to that association agreement. You do not have to repeat them again in the protocol.

There was also the question of whether we could provide you with the information in respect to monitoring. Whenever the European Parliament asks questions to the Commission, be they oral questions or written questions, we try to respond to them and we will, of course, do so. So if we get questions on the application of this protocol, we will try to give as fair an answer as possible and this does not, Ms De Keyser, only apply to the Trade Directorate-General; it applies to a number of other services like SANCO, TAXUD and others. So if you want us to give information, we will give the information we have. That will not necessarily be completely watertight because it is about putting into practice existing legislation and an existing protocol to an association agreement, but we will do so in good faith and it should be beyond doubt that the position of the European Union with respect to Israel is crystal clear: we do not recognise the settlements and Israel has an obligation of cooperation with respect to the occupied territories, for example, when it comes to this type of protocol.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Ioan Mircea Paşcu (S&D), in writing. – Today’s debate is an example of how politics, veiled in ‘technicalities’, interfere with trade to the detriment of the consumers of both parties.

We, in this House, are split: some have placed the consumers from their countries at the centre of their attention and, consequently, want the ACAA approved, while others want to use ACAA as a ram against Israel’s settlements in the occupied territories, in an attempt to hit the Israeli Government.

The latter’s argument is that we cannot trust the Commission – which we trust on all other similar occasions – to uphold the 2010 decision of the ECJ and clearly state our policy regarding those territories.

And what will happen if the ‘disbelievers’ want to remain unconvinced, in spite of all the assurances of the Commission and all the instruments at their disposal to check and double check that all the current regulations are respected? Will it result in the approval for a technical protocol to an existing agreement being perpetually denied?

I personally think that one should keep things straight and make the obligatory distinction between trade and politics; concentrating on politics for our political objectives and leaving the consumers on both sides to take advantage of bilateral trade between the two parties.

 
Last updated: 9 January 2013Legal notice