Talks gained momentum last week after a major holdout, Germany, softened its opposition and signaled support for a ban in phases. Over the weekend, officials and diplomats in Brussels discussed the idea of a phase-out by the end of 2022, but Hungary and Slovakia pushed back, according to the diplomats and the official.
Energy ministers have gathered for an emergency meeting in Brussels, after Russia deployed one of its most powerful economic weapons by shutting off natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria.
The energy ministers will focus Monday on finding ways to ensure Poland and Bulgaria continue to have enough gas from other sources and to prepare for possible shutdowns in other countries. E.U. officials denounced the move by Russia’s Gazprom as “blackmail.”
The possibility of agreement on an oil embargo shows how much the war in Ukraine has forced Europe to rethink its reliance on Russian energy.
Austria, like Germany, was once strongly opposed to the idea of an oil embargo, but both shifted to back the plan.
Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy and climate protection minister, said in Berlin on Monday that a new assessment shows “Germany can bear an oil embargo” as it weans itself from Russia oil by late summer. Germany had previously aimed to stop its imports by the year’s end.
Habeck also said that the fact that other E.U. members have not reached the same stage of energy diversification “must be respected.”
Hungary and Slovakia remain heavily dependent on Russian oil and say they need more time and money to adjust, particularly to update their oil infrastructure.
Hungary’s objection is sure to raise eyebrows in Brussels, because of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his ongoing stand-off with the E.U.
Diplomats will be watching to see what concessions his country is granted and whether he tries to use the matter to pressure the European Commission, which has frozen Hungary’s pandemic recovery funds over rule-of-law breaches and last week triggered a mechanism that could result in the E.U. holding back additional subsidies.
“Objectively they are in a more difficult position than others. At the same time, they would still like to get their hands on the recovery money,” one of the E.U. diplomats said.
The commission is aiming to have an oil proposal ready for Tuesday, with ambassadors to discuss it the next day.