There is an agreement and there will be an embargo on Russian oil, but although the pact is at 27, the practical application will not be. The heads of state and of the 27 have celebrated a political understanding at the highest level on Monday, but the exact details are yet to be finalized and only one thing is clear: it will not affect everyone, not even everyone equally, and Moscow will continue to receive money for its crude beyond 2023. Much less, but still somewhat.
During the weekend, the slogan of all the capitals was to repeat that “there was no division”, that the relationship between the 27 members of the EU was good and that the sixth package of sanctions against Russia, the one that must prohibit imports of oil, was almost closed, lacking nothing more than “technical issues”, after more than a month of hiatus. The bloc wanted to convince and perhaps be convinced that there were no vetoes, despite the fact that for weeks Hungary has said no over and over again and continues to do so. But the narrative began to twist on Monday.
In the first hour, the diplomats said that the conclusions documents were “very stabilized” and that it was a matter of days, if not hours. From Charles Michel’s team it was pointed out that “the European Council would try to seal a political agreement on the oil embargo”, calling it an “outstanding achievement for the EU” despite “temporary exemptions to ensure supply”. But the European Commission, through the mouth of its president, Ursula von der Leyen, clarified: “There are very low expectations that there will be an agreement in the next 48 hours, but I trust that the following days will be a possibility.” And to complete, and while the first leaders who arrived in Brussels wanted to see the glass half empty, the protagonist behind the scenes, Viktor Orban, cleared doubts and balls: “the battle of Brussels begins”, he challenged on his social networks upon landing.
The reality is that the agreement was, and is very close, and that the general lines are very clear and only a series of details need to be outlined, additional guarantees that Budapest demands for the most adverse scenarios. The problem is that there is an agreement, but what there is is no import ban or embargo on Russian oil, not a complete one. Imports by sea are cut this year, which were 1.6 million barrels a day last year, two thirds of the total purchased by the Union. But not the one that comes out by land through the Druzhba pipeline, which in 2021 accounted for more than 700,000 barrels per day.
A few weeks ago the 27 sealed the coal, which will stop buying from Russia from August 10. And they know that the gas problem is a chimera, it will not happen in the short term, despite the fact that the Netherlands has reported a supply cut for not paying in rubles and Denmark is expecting it this week, after Poland, Bulgaria and others. So they concentrated on oil, knowing that Hungary did not agree, for economic, technical and of course political reasons. “We are in a very difficult situation basically because of the irresponsible behavior of the Commission”, attacked the Magyar Prime Minister, reiterating that the proposals “had not been properly negotiated with the Member States”. Von der Leyen jumped in expecting the pressure to push everyone, but he missed the shot.
The initial idea was an embargo on Russian crude and refined products this year, in six and nine months respectively. But Hungary, together with Slovakia, Bulgaria or the Czech Republic, did not agree. Their dependency is too high, they argue, and they cannot find a solution in a few months. They will need new suppliers, but also to change their refineries, suitable only for Russian crude, which will take time and cost hundreds of millions of euros. The first solution was to give them a longer term, until the end of 2024 in the most extreme case. But still not everyone was satisfied. For weeks they have fought and in the end the only way has been to admit an exception and a temporary almost total exemption.
Hungary will continue to receive oil through the pipeline, but even that was not enough for it. She has demanded, and will obtain, guarantees that if something happens to that route, she will be able to continue receiving crude oil in another way. The idea is not liked, it irritates many partners, starting with Poland and the Baltics, but the alternative was to promote the same thing to 26, without the same forcefulness and with similar practical results. So they have compromised, explaining, as the Dutchman Rutte did, that in practice it is to cut off two-thirds of Moscow’s funding in just a few months.
Slovakia is satisfied with the promise of solidarity in case of cuts, as explained by its prime minister upon arrival. “The European Council agrees that the sixth package of sanctions will cover Russian crude, as well as refined crude, arriving from Russia, with a temporary exemption for that supplied by pipelines,” says the consensus document of conclusions that asks that those technical details are resolved immediately. The Council urges the ministers to “finalize and adopt without delay” this decision, “ensuring that there are equal conditions in the single market and solidarity between States in the event of a supply interruption”, it is added in reference to that oil that will reach Hungary or Slovakia cannot end up elsewhere or be used to unfairly favor their companies, enhancing competitiveness.
The Ukrainian president, Volodymir Zelenski, who throughout this year has been very critical and aggressive, addressed the 27 this Monday by videoconference, but unlike what happened last time, there were no reproaches or personal attacks, especially Orban. Calls for unity, to stop the war machine, for solidarity, but not individual attacks, aware of the moment: “Russia only understands the argument of force. The fights in Europe and the divisions must end, because the disputes animate Russia press harder,” he said in his speech.
But that they were not individual does not mean that there were no generals. “Of course, I want you to understand me: I do not blame any of you. The blame for everything that is happening lies only with the Russian state. But I am convinced that it is obvious to each and every one of you that there must be progress on sanctions. for this aggression. And for us it is very necessary (…) Why can Russia still earn almost a billion euros a day selling energy? Why do terrorist banks continue to work with Europe and the world financial system? Serious questions And why are Russian propaganda channels still active in the European Union? Why are Russian officials who support the war and judges who openly support repression still not sanctioned?” next month the EU will grant the status of a candidate country to Ukraine for future accession.
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