European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen headed to Budapest on Monday where she met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in an effort to persuade Hungary to sign onto an embargo on Russian oil. A final deal wasn’t secured.
Ms. von der Leyen’s previously unannounced visit came after a weekend of negotiations between Hungary and the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, over the help Brussels would provide Mr. Orbán’s government to re-boot Hungary’s energy system to wean itself off Russian oil.
On Monday, Hungary’s foreign minister said his government can’t support the EU’s oil embargo, the centerpiece of the bloc’s latest sanctions package, because it would “destroy our stable energy supply,” according to a government spokesman. However there were hopes in Brussels that Ms. von der Leyen’s trip would help convince Budapest to accept an embargo.
“This evening’s discussion with PM Viktor Orbán was helpful to clarify issues related to sanctions and energy security,” Ms. von der Leyen said Monday evening on Twitter. “We made progress but further work is needed.”
The Commission president said she would hold a virtual call with regional leaders on oil infrastructure. No date was given.
There was no immediate comment from the Hungarian government on Monday’s talks. EU officials had hoped to win approval for the sanctions package last week.
The Commission, with the backing of other member states, is prepared to offer Hungary more time to stop importing Russian oil and guarantees and assistance to ensure Hungary can find energy alternatives.
Last week, the European Commission circulated a sixth sanctions package against Russia over its Ukraine invasion. The package proposed that EU member states stop importing Russian crude oil in six months and stop importing refined oil products by year-end. The sanctions need the backing of all 27 member states.
The Commission offered Hungary and Slovakia 20 months to stop importing Russian oil. Those countries have said that isn’t enough time; and in a revised proposal on Friday, the Commission said they could give them until the end of 2024. The Commission is also offering the Czech Republic two years to wean itself off Russian oil. Bulgaria and Croatia are also both seeking EU assistance or more time.
Complicating the talks with Hungary are years of tension between Mr. Orbán, who recently won a sweeping re-election victory, and EU authorities. That includes the EU withholding billions of euros in coronavirus recovery money over its concerns about rule-of-law in Hungary and a recent move to potentially freeze future budget payments to Hungary.
Mr. Orban has maintained close ties with Moscow and has refused to allow the supply of western arms to go to Ukraine through his country, leading to friction with President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government.
Ukraine-Russia Latest News: May 10, 2022 – The Wall Street Journal