Discussions among the EU-27 states starting on 4 May had by 9 May still failed to reach a consensus on banning Russian oil. Although the G7 group of leading economies has undertaken to phase out their member states’ energy reliance on Moscow, the EU is still in a stalemate, with Hungary is blocking any agreement on a sixth package of sanctions that would stop imports of Russian fossil fuels.
The Commission proposed on 4 May to ban Russian crude oil imports within six months, and refined products by the end of the year. Provisions had been made to offer one-year exemptions to Hungary and Slovakia, which are landlocked and largely dependent on supplies from Russia. These were then extended to the Czech Republic and pushed back to the end of 2024. But these exemptions didn't go far enough, and as the discussions progressed, other member countries (Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta) pointed out their own difficulties.
European Council members appear still to be united on the principle of further sanctions, and that solidarity remains key. They may be nearing a conclusion if an accommodation with some member states can be reached. Security of supply for all, including those who are landlocked and dependent on a Russian pipeline, is the primary concern.
Drafting a new document may help overcome the reluctance of Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister. On 6 May, he was reported as saying that the Commission's proposal of 4 May ‘undermined the unity of the EU’ and that it crossed a ‘red line’ comparing it to ‘an atomic bomb. Diplomats in Brussels were hoping for a more accommodating attitude from his representatives in Brussels, but this hope evaporated on 8 May, Sunday, when the Hungarian government confirmed its veto and demanded a complete exemption – having initially called for a five-year exemption – and Bulgaria, in turn, demanded its own exemption.
- The EU gets about 27 % of its crude oil imports from Russia and a higher share of its oil products, paying billions of dollars a month that have in turn allowed Moscow to build up its military.
The EU banned Russian coal in April, but has so far stopped short of banning its natural gas, which most EU countries rely on for heating and electricity. However it made plans to gradually wean itself off Russian gas in the coming years. The embargo would be a landmark moment in the European bloc’s support of Ukraine – it represents a serious economic hardship that many EU countries are resisting.