BRUSSELS, May 10 — EU chief Ursula von der Leyen yesterday hailed the “progress” made during talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is holding up Brussels’ plans for a Russian oil embargo.

Landlocked Hungary relies on Russian oil from a single pipeline and Orban has warned he cannot approve the European Commission’s proposed sixth package of EU sanctions against Moscow.

“This evening’s discussion with PM Viktor Orban was helpful to clarify issues related to sanctions and energy security,” von der Leyen tweeted.

The two leaders discussed the issue over a working dinner at his headquarters in Budapest’s former Carmelite monastery.

“We made progress, but further work is needed,” she said, adding she would organise a videoconference call “with regional players to strengthen regional cooperation on oil infrastructure”.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto also said the two sides “made progress” but that they still had plenty to discuss to shift the EU position.

“We cannot make the Hungarian people pay the costs of this war,” he said in a video posted on Facebook.

Before the leaders’ talks, Orban’s international spokesman Zoltan Kovacs, citing Szijjarto, compared the sanctions package to an “atomic bomb” for Hungary’s economy.

“Hungary will not vote for the EU Commission’s initiative on sanctions against Russia because it poses a problem for Hungary and does not contain a proposal for a solution,” he tweeted.

“The proposal is like an atomic bomb for the Hungary economy and would destroy our stable energy supply.”

European diplomats in Brussels are locked in negotiations on the next series of sanctions designed to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

The draft was drawn up by experts in von der Leyen’s commission, the EU executive, but several member states have reservations — most vocally Hungary.

The package would have seen most EU members halting oil imports from Russia by the end of the year.

Technical talks continue, and negotiators insist there is united EU support behind the need for tougher sanctions, but Hungary and its neighbours need support to ensure alternative sources of fuel.

New infrastructure demands

Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have been offered permission to continue importing Russian oil until the end of 2024, but they also want help securing new sources of oil and retooling their refineries.

Budapest wants a five-year period to wean itself off Russian oil and will need a new pipeline with Croatia, which has access to the sea.

Hungary seeks guarantees that Zagreb will commit to building the new infrastructure and that the EU will provide funds for it, a diplomat told AFP.

In 2021, Russia supplied the bloc’s 27 members with 30 per cent of their crude oil and 15 per cent of their petroleum products. — AFP