September 30, 2023


Attempts to negotiate a last-minute compromise to get Hungary to back sanctions on Russian oil before a summit of EU leaders on Monday have so far failed to make a breakthrough, diplomats and officials said on Sunday evening.

EU ambassadors will continue discussions in the hours remaining before leaders begin the two-day European Council summit on Monday afternoon. “We still continue working on the issue,” an EU official said. “We will have tomorrow morning more clarity.”

Hungary has for weeks been the most vocal country blocking plans for EU-wide sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s oil industry, citing fears for its energy supply. Other countries have also raised concerns about the bloc’s sixth Russia sanctions package, though diplomats privately still expect a deal to be reached in the end.

Failure to agree to any action to limit the EU market for Russian oil would be a big victory for the Kremlin, which relies on such revenues to help fund its invasion of Ukraine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed a complete ban on all Russian oil imports, delivered by ship and pipeline, on May 4 but Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has led the opposition to the plan.

The tentative compromise, first reported by POLITICO last week, would water down the original proposal by allowing a temporary exemption for deliveries through pipelines that supply land-locked Hungary, and other countries.

Some countries have raised concerns during the talks about the issue of re-exporting. They want to make sure that the cheaper pipeline oil Hungary would get if the exemption applies could not be sold on to other EU countries.

If no deal is reached at Monday’s meeting of EU ambassadors, the issue will likely be discussed by leaders at the European Council, something several EU countries wanted to avoid.

A European Commission official played down expectations of a summit sanctions deal by saying leaders will only be briefly informed on Monday and that an agreement is expected later in the week at the level of EU ambassadors.

Last week, von der Leyen signaled in an interview with POLITICO that she did not believe a deal would be struck at the European Council, and sounded pessimistic about a quick resolution to the stand-off with Budapest.

Even so, officials and diplomats in Brussels have been testing support for the compromise plan. Orbán’s government has repeatedly called for pipeline deliveries to be left out of the import ban, arguing that the focus should be on Russian oil supplied by ships. He also wants more funding and time to prepare before the sanctions take effect.

David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting.


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