The heads of state and government of the EU arrive today in Brussels without an agreement to carry out the sixth package of sanctions against Russia, which would imply a partial ban on crude oil imports starting this year. Without a consensus on what to do with the continental energy market, how to control electricity prices (something that Spain and Portugal have started) and to what extent dependence on non-democratic regimes can be accelerated. And with a serious problem over food security, which will lead to a meeting with the leader of the African Union and plans with the United Nations to try to get tons of cereals out of Ukraine that cannot be moved due to the blockade of the ports due to the war.
These are all important and sensitive issues, but the focus is on the sanctions, which have been blocked for weeks by the demands or the blockade of Hungary. The sixth package includes, in addition to higher Russian officials for the community blacklist, an attempt to ban the import of Russian oil. Coal is already on the target, and in theory it will stop being bought from August, and gas is impossible, so the European Commission launched a proposal last month to cut off the arrival of crude and refined at the end of this year. Hungary, however, said no. And other partners such as Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria also objected, assuring that their dependence is too high, that there are no alternatives, that the transition to other sources implies multimillion-dollar costs and that they would need a period of up to five years.
During the first weeks the ambassadors of the 27, and also the ministers, have studied different formulas, including giving additional temporary exemptions to those most affected, until 2024 or even beyond. But the answer has been no. Hungary wants a total exemption, guarantees and also millions in aid to convert its refineries. And until she achieves them, she will not lift the veto. Most countries understand the sensitivities (Cyprus, for example, also doesn’t accept a ban on Russian citizens buying real estate in the EU, and Greece and Malta don’t want their big ships to stop transporting Russian oil to other parts of the world). , but Budapest has taken it to a higher level. It blocks, it does not show clarity, it asks for guarantees that are increasingly difficult to satisfy. And he has even taken the issue beyond oil, criticizing the list of sanctioned people, such as the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, which for many of his colleagues is evidence that he does not want to compromise, whatever they may be. the conditions and that it only buys time for the Kremlin. The 70 individuals, political and military leaders, whose names were known, have had more than enough time to get rid of any assets they had on community territory and could be seized.
This Sunday the ambassadors of the 27 in Brussels, known as the Coreper, tried again, but the agreement was not possible. There will be an additional desperate attempt this morning, hours before the start of the Summit, but there are objections on all sides. The Commission’s latest proposal satisfies no one. For Hungary it seems not enough and many member states find it offensive and discriminatory. It would mean vetoing Russian oil that is transported by sea this year, but giving an undated exemption to oil that arrives through the Druzhba pipeline, the longest in the world.
Last year Russia sent more than 700,000 barrels of crude to EU refineries through that pipeline, but the Greek, 1.6 million barrels, moved by sea. Community sources point out that, in addition, the bulk of what arrives through Druzhba is destined for Poland and Germany, which have promised to disassociate themselves as soon as possible in any case. But even so, the position of the most reluctant irritates the rest, who also regret that the legislative proposal that is on the table “is too generic.” “We are in the final phase, I don’t know if today it will be resolved but we are dealing with the last details,” explain diplomatic sources who insist on the need for the damage to the internal market to be as little as possible whatever the pact.
Orban assures that he does not want the issue to be addressed at the European Council that will be held today and tomorrow, but diplomats and officials believe the opposite, that what he has been looking for for weeks is for this to be discussed and closed at the highest level, with his leading role and putting into the negotiation the approval of its Recovery Plan, blocked in Brussels since last year, and the resolution of countless legal disputes. Orban seeks to do it in person, without ambassadors or ministers, between leaders who make him a promise and a concrete and juicy offer. The Commission looks at how to ensure that if oil arrives at a lower price in Hungary it is not used, for example, to produce goods that compete unfairly. Or that it can be sold to other places, and therefore more time is needed for the legal and technical details. And he has also been negotiating in parallel with Budapest for weeks on those guarantees that he is asking for, after the visit of President Ursula von der Leyen to the country.
The leaders will also talk today about aid to Ukraine, both economic and military. The IMF calculates that the country needs at least 5,000 million euros per month in the short term and the EU is working on a mechanism, similar to the one created to deal with the damage caused by the pandemic, which would provide aid, but in exchange for reforms and transformations , which at the same time would somewhat smooth the process for a hypothetical future accession. And they will also talk about military aid and what to do about food security.
Russia is conditioning the unblocking of Ukrainian ports so that food leaves its fields to the fact that there are no effective sanctions on its oil. The EU is studying formulas, such as a naval mission, to empty the barns, but it is full of risks. And this is what the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, will talk about this week with the Secretary General of the United Nations.
On Monday night, in any case, the heads of government will address the long-term energy issue, discussing the RepowerEU proposal presented by the European Commission a few weeks ago. Including possible price caps, as long as it is studied in coordination with partners from all over the planet, because the EU does not want to go alone to a price war in the midst of a supply cut.
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