June 27, 2022

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EU ministers urge Hungary to sign on to planned Russian oil embargo

EU ministers urge Hungary to sign on to planned Russian oil embargo

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis listens during a press conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, March 18, 2022. REUTERS/Jannis Laizance/File Photo

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  • Hungary described as an obstacle to dealing
  • Budapest says no proposal is accepted yet from Brussels
  • May 30-31 summit may be a last-ditch
  • Germany says oil embargo could last for years

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers sought to publicly pressure Hungary on Monday to veto a proposed oil embargo on Russia, with Lithuania saying the bloc was “hostage to one member state”.

The ban on crude oil imports proposed by the European Commission in early May would be its toughest sanctions yet in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, and includes a cut for EU countries most dependent on Russian oil.

Germany, the European Union’s largest economy and a major buyer of Russian energy, said it wanted a deal allowing for the oil embargo, which it indicated could last for years.

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“I am confident that we will find an agreement in the coming days,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Barbock said upon her arrival to meet her counterparts. “We need to prepare it very well because it needs to be sustainable.”

But Hungary, Moscow’s closest ally in the European Union, has said it wants hundreds of millions of euros from the union to ease the cost of giving up Russian crude. The EU needs all 27 countries to agree to the ban in order to move forward.

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“The entire union is being held hostage by one member state… We have to agree, we can’t be held hostage,” said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis.

A few ministers called Hungary by name while speaking to reporters, but Romania said it was up to the bloc to impose Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.

top solution?

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Budapest had not received any serious new proposal from the European Commission on oil sanctions since the chief executive visited Hungary earlier this month.

“The European Commission has caused a problem with one of the proposals, so it is a valid expectation from Hungary … that the EU will present a solution: to finance investments and offset … the price hike (output) that necessitates a comprehensive modernization of Hungary’s energy structure by between 15 and 18 billion euros.

Another solution, Sejarto said, is to make pipeline oil shipments exempt from the planned embargo. Read more

An oil embargo, already imposed by the United States and Britain and coming after five rounds of previous European Union sanctions, is widely seen as the best way to cut Russian income for its war in Ukraine.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said before meeting ministers on Monday that he was doing everything he could to break the deadlock over oil sanctions.

Some diplomats now refer to the May 30-31 summit as the moment of agreement on a phased embargo on Russian oil, possibly over six months, with a longer transition period for Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

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However, EU officials said there were other elements in the commission’s proposed sanctions package that some member states indicated last week they were not prepared to support.

These countries included the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Cyprus, the latter of which expressed concern about a proposal to ban the sale of real estate to Russians.

Moscow describes its invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation” to rid the country of fascists, an assertion that Kyiv and its Western allies say is an unfounded excuse for an unprovoked war.

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Additional reporting by Francesco Guaracchio and Christina Thanh in Budapest; Written by Robin Emmott and John Chalmers; Editing by Catherine Evans

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