Viktor Orbán has ruled out discussing the EU’s proposed oil embargo of Russia at next week’s summit of leaders, in a fresh blow to the union’s efforts to win backing for its landmark sanctions package.
Hungary’s prime minister has written to the European Council’s president, Charles Michel, saying his country could not support the sanctions without more detail on the EU financing available to help Budapest wean itself off Russian oil.
Orbán’s refusal to discuss the package leaves Brussels’ plans to end the bloc’s dependence on Russian oil hanging by a thread.
“Discussing the sanctions package at the level of leaders in the absence of a consensus would be counterproductive,” Orbán wrote in the letter, seen by the Financial Times. “It would only highlight our internal divisions without offering a realistic chance to resolve differences. Therefore, I propose not to address this issue at the next European Council.”
The European Commission has spent most of May seeking to win member states over to its sixth package of sanctions, which would include a phased-in embargo on Russian oil. But it has struggled to convince Hungary to support the package, as well as other landlocked states that are heavily dependent on Russian oil such as Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Last week the commission presented a €210bn plan dubbed REPowerEU, which sets out proposals for ditching Russian fossil fuels by 2027. While there were encouraging signals in the plan, Orbán wrote in his letter, he said it failed to address Hungary’s concerns because there “are no [funding] envelopes for the most concerned landlocked member states”.
He added: “There is no indication on the modalities and the timing of the financing for the urgent investment needs related to replacing Russian oil.” In his letter Orbán warned that the proposed sanctions would cause “serious supply problems” in Hungary and undermine its vital energy security interests, delivering a “price shock” to the country’s households and economy.
Orbán said Hungary needed money to adapt its refineries to non-Russian oil and build new pipelines to bring alternative supplies to the country.
Brussels has earmarked €2bn for central European nations to invest in new infrastructure but it decided to channel it through the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). Hungary has not yet clinched a deal with the commission over its bid for its share of the RRF because of EU concerns about breaches of the rule of law.
Orbán’s letter raises “serious problems” because “countries without adopted recovery and resilience plans cannot benefit” from the bulk of the REPowerEU project in the short term. However, he also emphasises that he will continue discussions “with a pragmatic and result-oriented approach”.
Orban’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.