BRUSSELS – The European Union is close to an agreement on phasing out Russian oil imports in response to the war in Ukraine – but objections from Hungary and Slovakia are holding back an oil deal, according to two EU diplomats and an EU official.
Negotiations gained momentum last week after a major holdout, Germany, softened its opposition and signaled support for a phase-out ban. Over the weekend, officials and diplomats in Brussels discussed the idea of a phasing out before the end of 2022, but Hungary and Slovakia withdrew, according to the diplomats and the official.
Russia is shutting off gas to Poland and Bulgaria, increasing tensions with the EU
Energy ministers are gathered for an emergency meeting in Brussels after Russia deployed one of its most powerful economic weapons by shutting down natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria.
Energy ministers on Monday will focus on finding ways to ensure that Poland and Bulgaria continue to have enough gas from other sources and to prepare for possible shutdowns in other countries. EU officials condemned the Russian Gazprom’s move as “blackmail”.
The possibility of agreeing on an oil embargo shows how much the war in Ukraine has forced Europe to reconsider its dependence on Russian energy.
Austria, like Germany, was once strongly opposed to the idea of an oil embargo, but both switched to supporting the plan.
Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy and climate protection minister, said in Berlin on Monday that a new assessment shows that “Germany can withstand an oil embargo” as it gets used to Russia’s oil before late summer. Germany had previously sought to stop its imports before the end of the year.
Habeck also said the fact that other EU members have not reached the same stage of energy diversification “must be respected.”
Hungary and Slovakia remain heavily dependent on Russian oil, saying they need more time and money to adapt, especially to update their oil infrastructure.
Hungary’s objection will certainly raise eyebrows in Brussels due to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his ongoing stand-off with the EU
Diplomats will follow to see what concessions his country receives and whether he tries to use the case to pressure the European Commission, which has frozen Hungary’s pandemic remedies over breaches of the rule of law and last week triggered a mechanism that could result in The EU is withholding further funding.
“Objectively, they are in a more difficult position than others. At the same time, they still want their fingers in the recovery money, “said one of the EU diplomats.
The Commission aims to have an oil proposal ready by Tuesday, with ambassadors to discuss it the next day.