EU’s Russian oil ban runs into trouble as countries clash over key details – POLITICO
Ursula von der Leyen faces a battle to salvage her proposed ban on Russian oil imports after major objections were raised by Hungary and Slovakia.
The President of the European Commission put forward proposals to stop crude oil imports from Russia within six months and processed fuels until December 31.
In response to concerns about the economic impact on Slovakia and Hungary, special rules were drafted to give the two countries an extra year to adapt to the ban.
But the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán signaled strong reservations and suggested that it might not be able to support the sanctions package.
Slovakia’s Deputy Economy Minister told POLITICO the country supports the EU sanctions but needs at least until 2025 to prepare. He called on other EU countries to show solidarity with the region, arguing that the proposals would not only put pressure on oil supplies in Slovakia, but also in Austria, the Czech Republic and Ukraine.
However, for more restrictive countries like Poland and the Baltics, the proposed timeline is already painfully slow. An even longer phase-out of Russian oil would be hard for them to bear, and the disagreements are causing tense talks between EU governments in the coming days.
The key question for von der Leyen is whether Hungary and Slovakia are just playing hard to get better terms. The proposal needs the unanimous support of all 27 EU countries to move forward.
After an initial discussion of the proposal by EU ambassadors on Wednesday, a wide array of EU diplomats and officials told POLITICO they expected Hungary and Slovakia to eventually come on board if they could secure further concessions.
While Slovakia argued that the end of 2025 would already be a major test for the country’s economy, diplomats stressed that a typical negotiating strategy is to start with a high opening bid and end up somewhere in the middle. An EU diplomat described the reactions from Hungary and Slovakia as “posterance”.
Others were more likable. “We have come to a point where sanctions do more harm economically,” said another diplomat. “It’s understandable that some countries are pushing back.”
The proposed oil phase-out timing wasn’t the only concern EU countries raised on Wednesday.
Greece, Cyprus and Malta have raised concerns about the Commission’s proposal to ban EU-flagged or EU-controlled vessels from transporting Russian oil to third countries, diplomats said.
The three southern countries fear the measure will hurt the EU more than Russia without an international deal, arguing there is a real risk that the deal banned for EU ships would simply be taken over by others such as China, Turkey or Panama .
While this will certainly remain a point of contention at upcoming meetings, diplomats do not expect it to derail the EU’s sixth sanctions package.
The same applies to concerns from some Nordic countries and the Netherlands over plans to ban three more Russian state broadcasters in a bid to crack down on Kremlin propaganda following the invasion of Ukraine. They have some concerns about the need to protect freedom of expression, diplomats said.
During their private talks on Wednesday, the ambassadors asked for more time to go through the texts as they received the proposal very late Tuesday night.
The European Commission wants the new sanctions in place by next Monday’s Europe Day, some diplomats said.
Despite the above concerns, several diplomats expressed optimism that EU countries would agree on the package by the end of the week. “None of the problems raised are too big to find a solution,” said an EU diplomat. Another said that while some suggestions will go back and forth, they “will get there in the end.”
Hanne Cokelaere contributed to the reporting.
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