On the 18th September the committee of International Trade (INTA) of the European Parliament will vote on a protocol attached to the EU-Israel Association Agreement called “the Protocol on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products’’ – commonly known as ACAA.
ACAA seeks to facilitate the EU’s internal market through eliminating technical barriers to trade, specifically in industrial products. It will save some time in accessing markets and save some costs. European and Israeli consumers will have access to a broader choice of pharmaceuticals and competition will lower prices. It is being pitched as a win win for both the EU and Israel.
So what’s the problem?
Human rights. Perhaps more specifically, Israel’s continued violations of human rights and international humanitarian law – even when the EU has asked them (repeatedly) to stop it.
The EU has openly, and at times boldly, condemned Israel’s ongoing human rights abuses within the occupied Palestinian territories. It is important that they do this. These statements however are just words unless they are followed up by action.
It is time for the EU to put their money where their mouth is.
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”.
In the EU’s words, “Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights are the values on which the European Union is founded…Countries…must respect human rights, and so must countries which have concluded trade and other agreements with it”. In other words, business and trade deals cannot be separated from the human rights standards that the Union was founded upon.
The European Parliament must suspend its vote on the ACAA protocol. All I am asking here is for the EU to live up to its own standards.
This is not anything new either. In 2008 the European Parliament withheld assent to the Protocol on the participation of Israel in Community Programs for similar reasons.
So what can the European Parliament actually do?
The EP can accept, reject or postpone the vote on the proposal but it cannot amend it.
It would be madness to reject a protocol that holds such clear mutual benefit but, at the same time, the EU cannot accept it for as long as Israel refuses to budge on so many human rights issues. As such, the EP has to suspend its vote on the ACAA protocol until Israel complies with its obligations under international humanitarian law.
As you might expect, the Socialists and Democrats (Labour) and the Greens in the EP are ‘opposed to ACAA’. Equally as you might also expect the ECR (Conservatives) and EFD (UKIP) are voting in favour. The balance of power therefore sits with ALDE (Lib Dems). ACAA needs their 85 votes to get through.
ALDE, like the EU, has a strong position on human rights. In their own words, “Promoting human rights throughout the world regardless of nationality has been and remains one of the top priorities for the Alliance of European Liberals and Democrats for Europe… The European Union has now come to define itself in terms of the promotion of these rights and democratic freedoms.”
Lets hope that ALDE and the EU live up to their own standards. If they don’t, all they will have are words on a website. The world needs the EU, the Lib Dems and human rights to be more than that.
UPDATE – 2 MEPs have responded. The first was Keith Taylor MEP (Green, SE) – you can see his comments below.
The second MEP was Sarah Ludford (Lib Dem) who responded to Keith Taylor’s accusation that we couldn’t rely on the Lib Dems on this occasion. She tweeted:
This is not a boycott, it is a suspension of a vote until basic human rights and IHL standards are met. Sadly, it looks like Keith Taylor was right. Once again let down by the Lib Dems.