Hungary has been accused of ‘holding the EU hostage’ over its refusal to agree to an oil embargo on Russia, as the bloc struggles to reach consensus on its latest sanctions aimed at eroding the Kremlin’s capacity to go to war.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said: “Unfortunately, the whole Union is being held hostage by a single Member State.” He was referring to Hungary, which continues to block the oil embargo, despite being offered an extension of the phase-out of Russian crude until the end of 2024.
“Everyone expected it to be enough,” Landsbergis told reporters, reflecting the widely held view that Budapest would fall into line if it had more time to convert its energy system to accommodate non-oil. Russian.
Speaking in Budapest on Monday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said his country would not block EU sanctions against Russia, as long as they posed no risk to Hungary’s energy security.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said it would cost between 15 and 18 billion euros (£12.75 and 15.3 billion) for the “comprehensive modernization of Hungary’s energy infrastructure”. to phase out Russian oil, while calling on the EU to come up with a plan. “It is legitimate for the Hungarians to expect a proposal” from the European Commission, he said.
Hungary, almost entirely dependent on Russian oil, maintains an EU-wide embargo that requires unanimity from all 27 member states.
The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said there was no guarantee the issue would be resolved at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday. “We will do our best to unblock the situation,” he said. “I can’t guarantee that will happen because the positions are quite strong.”
Other EU member states have expressed impatience with the delay. “We have to go on and do this,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said. “This is a deterrent to further war. The sooner the EU can finalize this sixth sanctions package, the better.”
Johanna Sumuvuori, Finland’s junior foreign minister, who said she would inform her counterparts about Helsinki’s NATO bid, said of the oil ban: “It’s very important to do everything our best, so that we can make a strong statement as the EU”.
The EU has been unable to agree to its sixth set of sanctions against Russia – which includes asset freezes and travel bans for prominent supporters of Vladimir Putin – 12 days after the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, presented plans for a Russian oil embargo. will come into force at the end of 2022.
Since the proposals, EU officials have made a series of concessions. A plan to ban EU ships from carrying Russian oil was scrapped, after opposition from Greece and Cyprus, which feared their industries would lose out to rivals.
Meanwhile, landlocked countries that rely heavily on Russian oil have been offered a deadline to join the EU embargo. Hungary and Slovakia were given until the end of 2024, while the Czech Republic was offered a deadline of June 2024. While Slovakia and the Czech Republic appear ready to sign the sanctions, Budapest continues to resist to the oil embargo, which Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán compared to an atomic bomb hitting his country’s economy.
Hungary says it needs five years and hundreds of billions of forints to convert its Százhalombatta refinery near Budapest, which can only receive Russian oil. Hungarian officials also say Croatia needs to strengthen its ability to secure access to alternative supplies.
Von der Leyen announced last week that she was planning a videoconference with Hungary and other countries in the region to determine how to rework Hungary’s oil supply. No details have been announced since Von der Leyen made this statement.
EU foreign ministers, who are meeting in Brussels for talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, were never expected to produce a breakthrough on the sanctions heist.
The 27 ministers also meet their Canadian counterpart, Mélanie Joly, who has called for Finland and Sweden to quickly join NATO.