EU-Russia oil ban conundrum: Will EU maintain unity?

EU leaders are currently discussing the contentious issue of banning Russian oil imports into the EU. Such a decision is expected to further affect oil prices, with the crude oil price already reaching record highs over supply fears.

The discussion in the European Council is not easy. While it is easier to dismiss Hungary’s opposition to the sanctions, one could sympathise with Budapest over the issue upon analysing its position.

Hungary is a landlocked country in central Europe, and its energy imports are through the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline, which also branches into Poland and Germany.

While Hungary is not opposing the sanctions in principle, it wants guarantees from the European Commission that should the pipeline is out of service, they would still be able to import oil once the maritime oil transhipment is in place.

Slovakia, another landlocked country, also echoed Hungary on this issue. As the EU plans to ban Russian oil shipments into the EU through maritime channels, Hungary and Slovakia, which depend mainly on Russian oil, feel uneasy. 

However, it seems that not all Member States agree with the exemption that is being proposed to appease Hungary and Slovakia. Some Member States disagree with a total exemption on Russian oil imports into the EU from all this pipeline. Many argue that Germany and Poland would have a significant advantage over others should the whole pipeline be exempted.

Speaking to the media upon his arrival at the European Council, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán blamed the European Commission for proposing the 6th package before it sought the opinion of Member States. He said that “we are in a very difficult situation basically because of the irresponsible behaviour of the Commission,” adding that the proposal had not been “properly negotiated with member states.”

It is unclear whether the EU Member States will be reaching a deal this evening. While the European Council President was optimistic and upbeat on the issue, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen poured cold water and said that “my expectations are low that it will be solved in the next 48 hours, but I’m confident that after that there might be a possibility.”

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