As the European Union’s stalemate over the impending Russian oil embargo dragged on for days and then weeks, an ambassador used a phrase in Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Gondo”: “Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody leaves. , it ‘s awful! ”
Diplomats and officials are increasingly frustrated as the EU may reach the limit of the short-term pain it could cause Russia as early as three months after its invasion of Ukraine, according to a Bloomberg report.
Member States are failing to deliver on their promises to strike at President Vladimir Putin where it hurts: in the lucrative energy industry. The focus has been on Hungary’s refusal to support sanctions, but other countries are backing down from Putin’s demands for gas payments in rubles.
This development highlights the limits of the EU’s strategy to support harsh rhetoric with action that requires unanimity among its 27 members. In the run-up to the two-day summit starting on Monday, some leaders are now pushing for an agreement that will allow traditions to continue for Hungary and others.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the EU leader closest to Putin, has urged his colleagues not to discuss the proposed Russian oil ban at the summit.
More talks are under way to reach an agreement before that, even with the complete removal of oil from the package. If that fails, leaders could discuss the ban anyway, according to EU diplomats.
But it is not just Orban who has been at odds with the EU for years over everything from the rule of law to gay rights in his country and threatens to torpedo its post-pandemic economic package. Companies in many European countries are stepping up their purchases of Russian gas through accounts in rubles, amid ambiguous warnings from the European Commission.
A minister noted at a recent meeting of EU ministers that it was unfortunate that some companies had opened accounts in rubles, contrary to what they communicated in public.
“If we get stuck in oil and the war goes on without a winner and a loser, we could see a scenario in which the unity of the EU will begin to deteriorate,” said Nathalie Tocci, a former adviser to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
There is also the impact on public opinion, she said. “The more the war draws on, the more European societies are reluctant to endure the pain of sanctions, and this is slowing down the dynamics of sanctions,” said Tocci, who is now director of the Rome Institute of International Affairs.
Greater difficulties in agreeing on sanctions
Member States have also been divided – especially between Western and Eastern nations – over what weapons to send to Ukraine, whether there was any benefit from the discussion with Putin, and what terms Kyiv should accept in any future peace deal.
It would always take time. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen first proposed the embargo in early May, saying: “Let it be clear: it will not be easy.”
The EU has repeatedly overcome divisions to vote on five packages of sanctions so far. Many diplomats expect Orban to be persuaded in the end to avoid isolation. This week, he declared a state of emergency and imposed an emergency tax to raise money for the economy.
Indeed, EU members are finding it increasingly difficult to reach an agreement because the sanctions under consideration mean greater burdens on their national finances, officials said.
Even if agreed before or at the summit, the sixth package of sanctions has lost some of its force. The proposed abolition periods have been extended and the ban on Russian oil shipments to third countries has been lifted following pressure from Greece.
Next is natural gas
After oil, the EU will turn to gas. He has said he wants to replace Russian gas by two-thirds by the end of the year and end imports by 2027. That could prove too ambitious, gas companies have said.
As tensions escalate over Hungary holding the EU to what a diplomat called a state of uncertainty, support is gaining ground for the bloc’s unanimity criteria on sanctions and foreign policy, diplomats said. French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi have called for an end to the unanimity.
“The unanimity requirement will eventually be lifted – it will be difficult, but the EU cannot continue to function in this way in foreign policy,” said Guntram Wolff, director of the Brussels-based Bruegel think tank. “Removing it would allow us to be faster and bolder in imposing sanctions.”