Europe

Expert: Ruling on W. Sahara Undermines Legal Basis for EU’s West Bank Labeling Guidelines

A ruling delivered by a European court last week on a trade deal between the European Union and Morocco undermines the legal basis behind the EU’s recently implemented labeling guidelines on Israeli goods produced beyond the 1949 armistice lines, international law expert Eugene Kontorovich wrote on the Walla news site (Hebrew link) on Wednesday.

Kontorovich explained that the EU’s second highest judicial body, the General Court, determined that the fishing agreement between the EU and Morocco must be annulled because it also applies to the Western Sahara, a disputed territory that Morocco captured in 1975. The court cited United Nations resolutions that classify the territory as occupied, and faulted the EU for pursuing the accord with Morocco without making distinctions about products manufactured in the Western Sahara.

Despite this, the EU announced on Monday that it is appealing the court’s decision.

According to Kontorovich, “Europe has numerous agreements with Morocco, similar to those it has with Israel, but in the case of Morocco it does not have the clear distinction regarding Western Sahara as it has with Israel concerning the West Bank and the Golan Heights. This ruling undermines the EU’s argument that supposedly there’s a big difference between cases that one is occupied and the other is not.”

Kontorovich explained in a series of five tweets that the West Bank’s classification as an occupied territory is based on a broad interpretation of international law, which regards a territory as occupied “whenever [a] country takes land that is not its own.” He wrote that the point of this interpretation was to ensure that territories that have an unclear sovereign status, like the West Bank, could also be considered occupied.

Now, Kontorovich argued, the EU is insisting that Western Sahara is “not occupied because it was an orphaned Spanish colony, and because it is not exactly like [the West Bank].” This in turn proves a challenge to the EU’s policy on Israel and the Palestinian territories, as by arguing that an occupation does not always exist in cases where a country takes over a territory that is not its own, the EU “validates” Israel’s “longstanding view” and challenges the legal basis behind its labeling initiative.

Kontorovich and Avi Bell, a professor at Bar-Ilan University and the University of San Diego Law School, pointed out in a paper (.pdf) published in October that, while there are approximately 200 territorial disputes worldwide, “the EU has never unilaterally adopted a regulation requiring geographic labelling contrary to the exporting country’s certificate of origination,” except in the case of Israel. The EU new guidelines, they argued, therefore amount to “unlawful trade barriers.”

[Photo: Western Sahara / Flickr ]