On Monday, EU foreign ministers attempted to overcome Hungary’s resistance to a Russian oil embargo over the Ukraine conflict, but cautioned that little progress was likely.
At the opening of a meeting in Brussels, EU foreign affairs director Josep Borrell said, “We will debate it and we will do our best to de-block the situation.”
“I can’t guarantee that will happen since the positions are so strong.”
Budapest has been resisting Brussels’ attempt to block Moscow’s vital oil shipments as part of a sixth round of sanctions, claiming that it would cripple the Hungarian economy.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said: “There are still a few things that need to be clarified in the final stages. There will be no final clarification here today.”
But she added that she was confident that “in the next few days we will come to a joint result.”
Brussels is desperate to avoid the appearance of division in the face of the Kremlin’s onslaught on Ukraine, and officials are scrambling behind the scenes to patch up a compromise.
“I think that if we understand the particular situation of some member states and all of us make an effort to present a united front against Russia, we will succeed,” Borrell said.
“It is an objective situation that some member states face more difficulties because they are more dependent, because they are landlocked, because they do not have the possibility of receiving tankers directly,” he added.
“They only have oil through pipelines — coming from Russia.”
Brussels has offered Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia long grace periods to phase out Russian oil imports but that has not yet convinced Budapest to budge.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, often the odd man out in EU decision making, request to be from the embargo for at least four years and wants 800 million euros ($830 million) in EU funds to re-tool a refinery and boost the capacity of a pipeline to Croatia.
“The whole union is being held hostage by one member state who cannot help us find the consensus,” said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis.
Landsbergis said the European Commission was offering landlocked Hungary until the end of 2024 to ditch Russian oil.
“That’s a huge, huge, huge scale,I believe that everyone anticipated this to be sufficient. And I’m sorry, but I’m not sure why it isn’t.” He remarked.
Foreign Minister Simon Coveney of Ireland acknowledged that an embargo would be difficult for nations that rely on Russian oil, but emphasised that “we need to get on and do this.”
He stated, “The political message is apparent. This is something the EU wants to achieve, and we want to do it as fast as possible.”
The EU also intends to reduce its reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds this year, but it has been hesitant to impose import restrictions due to Germany’s opposition.