The European Union’s historic agreement to ban the vast majority of imports of Russian oil by the end of the year is without question a major achievement.
Getting 27 countries, many of which have been utterly reliant on Russian energy, to agree on a package that will almost certainly damage their own economies on the behalf of Ukraine, a country that isn’t even in the EU, was unthinkable even a few months ago.
The deal, however, does have flaws that reveal the limitations of European unity and nod to headaches for the bloc further down the road.
First and foremost, the deal does not include oil that is imported via the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline to Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Vladimir Putin’s key ally in the EU, started Monday by criticizing the EU Commission and calling it “irresponsible” for putting the economies of these countries at risk. He ended the day with a video message claiming: “We have managed to defeat the Commission’s proposal to ban the use of oil from Russia in Hungary.”
Needless to say, one EU leader celebrating the defeat of a key EU institution is a fly in the ointment for those claiming the deal was a triumph for European unity.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the pipeline issue would be discussed again, but she didn’t predict a timeframe.
Given how difficult the oil pipeline issue has been, it’s reasonable to assume that Europe is some way off agreeing on what to do about Russian natural gas, on which the continent is even more reliant than Russian oil.
The member states could also disagree on issues that are either directly or tangentially related to the war in Ukraine. Should Ukraine join the EU? Should the EU have a more aggressive foreign and defense policy? Should countries like Hungary be able to hold the rest of the bloc to ransom with its veto, and how can the EU reform that?
It’s been a difficult few days in Brussels, and EU officials can breathe a sigh of relief that this deal got there in the end. But there are going to be many more arguments before this crisis ends – and the limits of European unity could still be stretched to breaking point.