EU leaders are having such a hard time drawing up sanctions on Russian oil that they don’t even seem able to agree on how to disagree.
On Wednesday, European Council President Charles Michel said he was optimistic that a deal could be reached between member countries before Monday’s summit of leaders in Brussels. That directly contradicted Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, who told POLITICO on Tuesday she did not want to raise “false expectations” of a deal being struck next week.
It has been almost a month since von der Leyen unveiled a radical blueprint to hit Vladimir Putin’s energy exports with a complete import ban on Russian crude and refined fuels. Ukraine has been calling on leaders to stop buying Russian fossil fuels in order to cut off a key funding stream that’s helping Putin finance his war.
When she proposed the bloc’s sixth round of Russia sanctions on May 4, von der Leyen said weaning European economies off Putin’s oil would be difficult but must be done.
But Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has stood in the way of an agreement. This week he again warned he won’t sign up to the package until solutions are offered for the “nuclear” impact an oil ban would have on his economy.
In an interview with POLITICO in Davos on Tuesday, von der Leyen said she did not want to raise expectations of a breakthrough in time for the European Council summit starting on May 30. She later said she believed it would take weeks to get a deal.
But speaking in Sweden on Wednesday, Michel said, “I’m still confident that we can be able to resolve the topic before the European Council. It requires a lot of dialogue, a lot of political efforts and we are working very hard in order to be able to stay united — very important — but also to take decisions in order to break the Russian war machine and to try to put pressure on the Kremlin in order to end the war.”
He added: “We’re working to be innovative, to be constructive in order to put some proposals on the table that will allow us to protect the unity and be united … And I hope, I sincerely hope that we will be united at this European Council meeting on Monday and Tuesday.”
Officials and diplomats are desperately drafting options for compromise with Hungary in an attempt to rescue the sanctions plan. One idea would be to give Budapest more opt-outs from the main ban, while another would be to park the oil part of the sanctions package for now and implement other measures, targeting banks and pro-Kremlin propaganda.
Despite Michel’s optimism, others are not convinced. One German government official said on Wednesday that a sanctions deal by Monday’s summit is not likely. An EU diplomat added: “If we don’t have a solution before Monday, the countries on the border with Russia will not hesitate to put the elephant in the middle of the room.”