On 26 April 2023, the European Parliament’s committee on petitions (PETI) decided unanimously, that the European Commission must respond to a petition on EU trade with illegal settlements, and the European Parliament’s committee on international trade (INTA) should consider backing a ban.
Since September 2021, Al-Haq has worked together with a movement of Palestinian and international organisations on a European Citizens Initiative (ECI) calling for the EU to regulate commercial transactions with the Occupying Power’s entities based or operating in occupied territories by withholding products originating from occupied territory from entering the EU market.
On April 26, the PETI debated EU trade with illegal settlements following testimony from Dr. Tom Moerenhout, an international law expert and an organiser of the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) “Ensuring Common Commercial Policy conformity with EU Treaties and compliance with international law”.
MEP Margrete Auken, a vice-chair of the PETI committee, initiated the discussion based on that ECI, which is supported by more than 277,000 EU citizens, and a broad coalition of civil society organisations, including Al-Haq.
Tom Moerenhout, Organiser of the European Citizens Initiative urged the adoption of an EU prohibition on settlement trade stating: “I’m grateful for the European Parliament petitions committee’s support. But it’s a scandal that citizens should have to ask the EU to respect international law and human rights in its trade relations. Europe shouldn’t be enabling the trade in goods produced as a result of land theft, displacement, and discrimination. Brussels has to do better”
Margrete Auken, Member of the European Parliament since 2004 spoke to the double standards employed by the EU in failing to comply with international law on illegal settlement trade: “This is a matter of EUs responsibility and reliability as an important trade partner in the world. EU leaders always speak about international law and human rights, but when it comes to our trade with illegal settlements – the values are just empty words.
Illegal settlements are – illegal – and the occupying power should not benefit from trade with goods from the occupied land. This has nothing to do with sanctions. It is a basic respect for international law.”
The European Commission, as Guardian of the Treaties, is responsible to ensure consistency of the Union’s policy and compliance with fundamental rights and international law in all areas of EU law, including the Common Commercial Policy. In some cases the EU accepts its responsibility, and is a world leader, for example by banning the import, export and even marketing of torture devices. But that is not the case on trade with illegal settlements and trade that contributes to unlawful resource extraction in occupied territories.
The petition, which the European Commission must now respond to in writing, calls on the Commission to propose legal acts to prevent EU legal entities from both importing products originating in illegal settlements in occupied territories and exporting to such territories, in order to preserve the integrity of the internal market and to not aid or assist the maintenance of such unlawful situations.
Originally the European Commission refused to register the ECI, evading accountability by saying it was not competent to enact a general prohibition on trade with illegal settlements. Only after citizens successfully sued the Commission, did the EU’s cabinet government acknowledge that yes, it has the competence to implement a general rule to stop illegal settlement trade and that this is indeed considered a general measure in respect of international and EU law rather than a sanction.
The PETI committee also voted to send the ECI/petition to the European Parliament’s INTA committee for an Opinion, and for that committee to consider drafting an own-initiative report. Own-initiative (INI) reports that pass a vote in the European Parliament are used by the parliament to request the European Commission to make a legislative proposal.