The European Commission has put forward new proposals to enforce “made in” labels on shoes and other products circulating in the European Union. In contrast with previous proposals that the Commission had rejected, the new ones foresee that these labels of origin should also be mandatory for products that are actually made or assembled in the EU.

In fact, the office of European Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht had decided to shelve the former proposals on mandatory labels of origin, which concerned only certain products imported into the EU, on the grounds that they would have discriminated against locally produced items, based on the guidelines of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Commission's new proposals for origin labelling are part of a wider set of measures that are intended to better inform consumers about the properties of non-medical products that are offered to them.

The proposed new legislation is supported by Tonio Borg and Antonio Tajani, the European commissioners for consumer protection and industrial policy. It follows a new declaration by the European Parliament last Jan. 17, which urged the Commission to come up with a re-examination of a proposal that it had already presented in 2010 or with an alternative one in the interest of consumers.

The action follows intense lobbying over the past ten years by trade associations in Italy, Spain, Portugal and some other countries where shoes, clothing and other consumer products are still widely manufactured. Similar guidelines on labels of origin already exist in many other countries such as the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

Officials of Anci, the Italian shoe industry association, which has been in the forefront of this 10-year battle, expressed satisfaction at the Commission's move, but felt that they have not yet won the war. For one thing, they criticize the fact that the Commission is leaving manufacturers in the EU free to adopt a national origin label such as “made in Italy” or a more generic “made in Europe” label. The hope that the European Parliament will pass an amendment requiring a national label.

One of the problems in this regard is the fact that the U.S., which still requires labels of import, doesn't accept a generic expression like “made in Europe.” For goods circulating in Europe, like before, the label must name the country where the most substantive transformation has taken place. The U.S. government uses more stringent criteria and the French government would like to make them more stringent.

On the other hand, the final text of the proposals that will be agreed between the Parliament and the Commission will still require approval by the European Council before they are enforced. Many governments are opposed to this kind of measures, so the final decision is likely to be subject to political bargaining.

Three Italian members of the European Parliament – Cristiana Muscardini, Gianluca Susta and Niccolò Rinaldi – have been actively leading the debate on the issue. To help persuade more and more members of the European Parliament to carry the battle for origin labels to a favorable conclusion, Anci has decided to invite 50 of them to visit the assembly operations of Fratelli Rossetti near Milan during the month of May, in order to persuade them of the importance of this critical phase of the manufacturing process, which currently determines the origin of the product. Anci will also present its annual “Shoe Report” to the European Parliament in Strasbourg instead of presenting it only to the Italian Parliament, as it does every year.

Anci believes that the label of origin for the shoes should be placed on the outer sole, but new Italian legislation risks to create some confusion in the mind of the consumer. The Italian Parliament has just voted a decree which allows Italian manufacturers of soles the possibility to place a label of origin on the interior side of the shoe.