The European Parliament voted on October 23 to back a mutual recognition agreement for pharmaceuticals between the European Union (EU) and Israel, with 379 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voting in support of the agreement, 230 voting against it and 41 abstaining.

The vote to approve the Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) will open up the Israeli market to EU-certified pharmaceuticals, and vice versa, removing barriers to trade, cutting manufacturers' costs and allowing them to get their products to market more speedily.

Critics including the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) had been urging MEPs to reject the deal because, they said, it "would reward Israel for its continued violations of international law.

The EU and its member states would be in contravention of their obligations under international law if they were to allow products manufactured in Israeli settlements in Palestine to be traded in European markets, they said.

In September, the Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs had warned of "serious concerns about the political context of this agreement," and during the debate ahead of the vote at the Parliament's plenary session in Strasbourg, the Committee's rapporteur, Portuguese Socialist MEP Vital Morera, said that the protocol on the deal was unclear as to whether it would include products originating in the Israeli settlements.

However, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht responded that the purpose of the deal was purely to eliminate the need for conformity assessment procedures, to reduce costs and time for pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The EU does not recognise Israel's sovereignty over the occupied territories," he told the MEPs, and the Union "will observe this distinction in the application of the ACCA."  Nor would any products originating from Israeli territories after 1967 be included in the terms of the deal, the Commissioner added.

Belgian Parti Socialiste MEP Veronique de Keyser, a member of the  Parliament'sCommittee on Foreign Affairs, criticised the fact that the MEPs were only being allowed to vote on the ACAA as it would operate for pharmaceuticals and not on its subsequent use in any other industrial sectors.

However, other parliamentarians condemned the "politicisation" of the deal which has led to it being delayed for two and a half years in the International Trade Committee. This has deprived EU healthcare systems of "useful generic medicines that could save them money," said Belgian Liberal Frederique Ries, while Finnish Liberal Hannu Takkula stressed: "we know there are good drugs from Israel that we need."

"This is an agreement of a technical nature, which will allow many EU citizens access to top-class pharmaceutical products, saving the healthcare system of individual members money at a time of crisis," added Italian Freedom and Democracy Group (EFD) MEP Fiorello Provera, who is vice-chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.