(Completed with Borrell, Czech Prime Minister, details)
BRUSSELS, May 6 (Reuters) – The European Commission has tweaked its proposal for an embargo on Russian oil to try to convince the most reluctant member states to adopt it, notably by extending the exemption period granted to Hungary, Slovakia, European sources told Reuters on Friday.
The new proposal was to be submitted to the ambassadors of the Twenty-Seven at a meeting which began at 07:30 GMT.
According to a European diplomat, the Commission is now proposing that Hungary and Slovakia, which are very dependent on Russian oil and which do not have alternative means of supply, can continue to import oil by pipeline until the end of 2024, i.e. year longer than originally planned.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday morning that the EU proposal was unacceptable as it stands, while saying he was ready to negotiate. He spoke of a five-year transition period for his country.
The Commission’s new proposal also provides for a derogation until mid-2024 for the Czech Republic, unless the construction of a transalpine pipeline is completed by then, the diplomat said.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, quoted by the CTK agency, considered that this initiative was going in the right direction, but that negotiations were continuing. Almost 50% of the Czech Republic’s crude imports come from Russia.
Another European source had previously told Reuters that the Commission had agreed to extend the transition period before the ban on the transport of Russian oil on EU territory to three months, compared to one month in the proposal presented on Wednesday by Ursula von der Leyen.
It also included in its proposal aid for investments aimed at improving oil infrastructure and reducing the impact of sanctions imposed on Russia, the source said.
Ursula von der Leyen repeated on Friday that the EU must free itself from Russian oil, while acknowledging that the embargo would have an impact on the economy of the Twenty-Seven.
Bulgaria also asked for an exemption regime but its request was rejected, because “they don’t really have an argument to make”, notes an official. The other three countries (Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic) “objectively have a problem”, he adds.
Diplomats stressed that the talks were difficult and that they had little visibility for the moment on their conclusion.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said on Friday he would convene a meeting of EU-27 foreign ministers next week if no agreement emerged. here on weekends. (Report Francesco Guarascio, French version Tangi Salaün, edited by Myriam Rivet and Kate Entringer)