It could take another two weeks before the European Union is able to agree on a plan to sanction Russia’s lucrative oil industry, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday.
While most countries agree, Hungary is blocking an agreement on a proposal to ban all imports of Russian crude and refined fuels, on the grounds that such a measure would be a blow to the Hungarian economy.
Speaking after a meeting of EU foreign ministers, Borrell said Hungary needed time to adapt its energy systems and money to pay for new infrastructure and more expensive alternatives to Russian oil.
Asked by POLITICO if it could take days or weeks for the EU to agree to sanction Russian oil, Borrell said: “I hope it won’t take longer, but I can’t tell you if it going to take a week or two.”
Borrell said he wanted ministers to discuss the sanctions package today, but the difficulties were too technical to be resolved at a political level. The package will be sent back to diplomats for further discussion, he said.
EU countries say they are determined to sanction Vladimir Putin’s oil industry as a way to cut off a major source of revenue that helps fund his war in Ukraine. On May 4, the European Commission proposed the sixth package of sanctions against Russia.
But so far, the countries have not signed on to the plan, which requires their unanimous approval. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán compared the economic impact on his country of the ban on Russian oil to a “nuclear bomb”.
One of the informal talking points between foreign ministers and their teams attending the meeting was whether a deal would be reached at the next European Council leaders’ summit in late May.
Two diplomats even privately questioned whether a deal would be struck. “At this point, I’m not sure of anything anymore,” said one.
Still, Borrell seemed optimistic that the main obstacle is practical, not political. “Hungary did not explain its position in political terms, but in economic terms,” he said.