It has been more than three weeks of push and pull, of twists and turns, of political vetoes tinged with complicity with the Kremlin and technical negotiations of overwhelming complexity, but in the end the bite of the European Union to the largest flow of financing from Russia It seems just around the corner: the Twenty-seven are already brushing an agreement in principle this Monday to decree a partial embargo on Russian oil.
The measure, according to various sources, will first hit crude oil imports by ship, which account for two-thirds of the total that flows to the EU from Russia. Instead, it leaves for later the restrictions on hydrocarbons traveling through pipelines, a mechanism designed to relieve Hungary. But, as they say in Brussels, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and the pact is still at risk of blowing up, with Hungarian Viktor Orbán still entrenched in the oil embargo veto.
The minimum agreement that the capitals currently have on the table is far from the “total ban” that the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called for 26 days ago, when proposing the sixth package of sanctions against the regime of Vladimir Putin, but it would save the unity of the community bloc for the time being just in time for the heads of state and government of the EU, meeting this Monday and Tuesday in an extraordinary summit in Brussels, to give political approval to the embargo.
“Everything I hear sounds like there could be a consensus, and sooner or later there will be,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz assured in an appearance just before the meeting in Brussels. Community and diplomatic sources trust that, after the commitment of the leaders, the pact will be finalized throughout this week. “The agreement is practically closed”, also stresses a diplomatic source.
But Viktor Orbán has entered the summit with dialectical dynamite causing the foundations of community unity to shake: “There is no commitment at all at the moment”, he snapped in an appearance at the entrance of the European Council, reiterating the blockade of Budapest, that has been choking negotiations for weeks.
With the compromise negotiated by the capitals, Hungary and the rest of the reticent countries to date, such as Slovakia and the Czech Republic, the three highly dependent on pipelined crude from Moscow and without access to the sea of any kind, would be covered under the mantle of the temporary exemption to Russian oil pipelines.
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Russia’s black gold would also continue to arrive by pipeline to Germany and Poland, but these two community partners would be completely disconnected at the end of 2022, as they had promised weeks ago, according to Council sources. In this way, in December of this year the EU embargo would reach 93% of the total imports of Russian oil and derivative products, which in 2021 totaled nearly 75,000 million euros. In other words, the ban would reach a figure of almost 70,000 million euros, causing a considerable hole in the coffers with which Putin finances the invasion of Ukraine.
The Executive arm of the EU trusts that after the green light from the Council (the body that represents the 27 capitals of the EU), which could arrive this Monday, the fringes and details still pending can be polished, which are mainly three : the terms of the temporary exemption for oil pipelines, the countries that will finally be able to avail themselves of it, and the guarantees so that the fact of exempting an entry route does not end up cracking the prized single market of the EU, to avoid, for example, that a country that continues to receive cheap Russian oil resells it to other countries that have already declared an embargo.
“The European Council agrees that the sixth package of sanctions against Russia will cover crude oil, as well as petroleum products, delivered from Russia to member states, with a temporary exception for crude oil delivered by pipeline,” reads a draft text. of Conclusions of the summit, to which EL PAÍS has had access. The draft urges the Council “to finalize and adopt it without delay”, and urges to finish off the fringes that are still in the air.
Diplomatic sources acknowledge that the debate has been much more complicated than they initially thought, due to the different variables and unexpected ramifications of a power outage. The draft conclusions even contemplate the need to articulate solidarity mechanisms between member states “in the event of a sudden interruption of supply”, a possibility that nobody rules out, either because Moscow decides to suddenly cut off the flow of oil by tube as retaliation against the sanctions or because the oil pipeline that transits from Russia to Hungary through Ukraine suffers some setback.
This is one of the critical points for Orbán. The draft conclusions include a concession to Hungary in this regard to ensure that there is a follow-up of the agreement: “The Commission will monitor and periodically report to the Council on the application of these measures to guarantee equal conditions in the EU single market and security of supply.
At the meeting in Brussels, most of the dossiers that the leaders of the Twenty-seven will face revolve around the Russian invasion of Ukraine (from food security to the common defense policy, passing through energy), and everything He points out that it will serve as a litmus test to see how far the seams that have begun to appear in the common strategy against Putin give way.