Orban says EU summit should not discuss Russian oil embargo

Hungary is not in a position to agree to the proposed EU sanctions until all outstanding issues resolved, Prime Minister Viktor Orban says in a letter to Charles Michel.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban sits before taking the oath of office in the Parliament in Budapest, Hungary
Orban has rocked the bloc's unity on the war in Ukraine by opposing an embargo on Russian oil [File: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters]

The European Union’s proposed new sanctions against Russia, including an oil embargo, should not be discussed at next week’s summit of the bloc’s leaders, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said in a letter to the head of the European Council.

Hungary is “unlikely” to drop its opposition to an embargo before the summit and was not in a position to agree to the proposed EU sanctions until all outstanding issues are resolved, Orban wrote to the President of the European Council Charles Michel on May 23.

The European Commission this month proposed new sanctions against Russia, but the package required the unanimous support of all 27 EU member states and Hungary blocked them.

Orban reiterated his stance that “solutions must come before sanctions”.

“Looking at the gravity of the issues still open, it is very unlikely that a comprehensive solution could be found before the special meeting of the European Council on 30-31 May,” Orban wrote in the letter obtained by news agencies on Tuesday.

“I am convinced that discussing the sanctions package at the level of leaders in the absence of a consensus would be counterproductive,” read the letter. It would only highlight the internal divisions without offering a realistic chance of resolving them, he added.

Earlier on Tuesday, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told CNBC she hoped to secure the oil embargo within “days”.

“What we are looking at is one or two member states that are landlocked, so cannot have oil via the sea and need alternatives in pipelines and in refineries, and there we are trying to find solutions,” she said.

Hungary demands

Orban, often the odd man out in EU decision-making, has rocked the bloc’s unity on the war in Ukraine, opposing an embargo on Russian oil.

The Hungarian prime minister has reluctantly supported previous EU sanctions on Moscow, including an embargo on Russian coal. But he has argued that such moves hurt the bloc more than they do Russia.

Since taking power in 2010, Orban has deepened Hungary’s dependency on Russian energy and says its geography and energy infrastructure make a shutdown of Russian oil impossible as it would have a devastating impact on the country’s economy.

Budapest has demanded an exemption from the embargo for at least four years and wants 800 million euros ($860m) in EU funds to re-tool a refinery and boost the capacity of a pipeline to Croatia.

The EU has offered Hungary, along with nearby Slovakia and Czech Republic, lengthy exemptions from imposing the embargo and has been locked in talks with Budapest to resolve the standoff.

France’s new foreign minister said she was optimistic that those still opposed to an embargo on Russian oil imports could be convinced and that the bloc would reach a deal.

“We must adopt, as quickly as possible, the sixth package of sanctions that foresees the progressive end of the imports of Russian oil and to lift the remaining reticence,” Catherine Colonna told a news conference alongside her German counterpart Annalena Baerbock in Berlin.

“We hope do it quickly and I’m optimistic.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies