Thursday, 26 May 2022
BusinessEU, Hungary make 'progress' amid row over ban on Russian fossil fuels

EU, Hungary make ‘progress’ amid row over ban on Russian fossil fuels

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday hailed the “progress” made during talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is holding up Brussels’ plans for an EU-wide ban on Russian fossil fuels.

Landlocked Hungary has blocked progress in discussions to adopt the sixth EU package of sanctions targeting Russia for its war in Ukraine, and ambassadors from the 27 EU countries have so far failed to agree on the details of the new round of measures.

Hungary relies on Russian oil from a single pipeline and Urban has warned he cannot approve the European Commission’s proposed sanctions.

“This evening’s discussion with PM Viktor Orban was helpful to clarify issues related to sanctions and energy security,” von der Leyen tweeted.

Von der Leyen has proposed having EU member nations phase out imports of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year.

Hungary had said it would not vote for the proposed sanctions, warning it would have the effect of an “atomic bomb” on its economy and would destroy its “stable energy supply.”

Von der Leyen and Orban discussed the issue over a working dinner at his headquarters in Budapest’s former Carmelite monastery.

“We made progress, but further work is needed,” she said, adding she would organize a videoconference call “with regional players to strengthen regional cooperation on oil infrastructure.”

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto also said the two sides “made progress” but that they still had plenty to discuss to shift the EU position.

“We cannot make the Hungarian people pay the costs of this war,” he said in a video posted on Facebook.

Before the leaders’ talks, Orban’s international spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs, citing Szijjarto, compared to the sanctions package to an “atomic bomb” for Hungary’s economy.

“Hungary will not vote for the EU Commission’s initiative on sanctions against Russia because it poses a problem for Hungary and does not contain a proposal for a solution,” he tweeted.

European diplomats in Brussels are locked in negotiations on the next series of sanctions designed to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

The draft was drawn up by experts in von der Leyen’s commission, the EU executive, but several member states have reservations – most vocally Hungary.

The package would have seen most EU members halting oil imports from Russia by the end of the year.

Technical talks continue, and negotiators insist there is united EU support behind the need for tougher sanctions, but Hungary and its neighbors need support to ensure alternative sources of fuel.

New infrastructure requirements

Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have been offered permission to continue importing Russian oil until the end of 2024, but they also want help securing new sources of oil and reoling their refineries.

Budapest wants a five-year period to wean itself off Russian oil and will need a new pipeline with Croatia, which has access to the sea.

Hungary seeks guarantees that Zagreb will commit to building the new infrastructure and that the EU will provide funds for it, a diplomat told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

In 2021, Russia supplied the bloc’s 27 members with 30% of their crude oil and 15% of their petroleum products.

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