EU: Russian oil embargo deal could be reached “in a matter of weeks”

BRUSSELS (Parliament Politics Magazine) – A compromise on a delayed proposal to impose an EU-wide ban on imports of Russian oil might be reached “in a matter of weeks,” according to Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President, who is also one of the measure’s most ardent supporters.

Three weeks ago, she announced intentions to impose a phased-in embargo on Russian oil as part of a sixth wave of sanctions, giving member nations six months time to phase out crude oil purchases and until the year end to stop buying any refined oil products.

However, shortly after her announcement, a number of member states, including Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, expressed concern and requested tailored exclusions to allow them more time to alter their refineries and mitigate the economic damage.

Several rounds of difficult negotiations have failed to produce the much-needed breakthrough, with Hungary standing as the most strident and outspoken opponent.

They were working hard on it since a handful of their member states were having serious technical difficulties. Because they were landlocked, they were unable to obtain oil by sea. They require alternate energy sources and pipelines, as well as refinery upgrades, von der Leyen said at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

There they were, working hard to come up with technical answers. Other member states’ solidarity solutions, as well as financial investment in renewables, for example, she continued.

It was a complicated system. She was  hoping they would be done with it in a few weeks, she said.

Von der Leyen’s upbeat view mirrors that of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck, both of whom have stated that an agreement is on the way.

In a letter that the Financial Times saw, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has requested that the proposed oil embargo be removed from next week’s EU conference, where diplomats had hoped to find a political solution.

It would be counterproductive to discuss the sanctions package at the level of leaders without a consensus, Orbán said in the letter.

It would only serve to showcase their own internal divisions rather than provide a serious opportunity to resolve them. As a result, he proposed that this issue be avoided in the next European Council, he added.

In response to the announcement, an EU official said the Council was engaging “all leaders” to plan and establish the topic for the two-day meeting.