One leader of one European nation was able to hold off any embargo for almost a month and a chunk of the embargo for the rest of the year, while rewarding his country with cheap Russian oil indefinitely. Viktor Orban, Hungary’s strongman and Putin’s most devoted partner in the EU, woke up Tuesday with a real reason to celebrate his 59th birthday.
The problem today is the precedent. It was painfully clear that Hungary, by digging in its heels, was able to do just what it wanted in the end. What’s to prevent others in the future from behaving similarly on other issues critical to the European community?
The agreement, in whatever fashion, was supposed to be a triumphal swansong for French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country has held the rotating leadership of Europe for the past six months. Macron’s determined advocacy for the full sanctions package comes in the face of fears that it will adversely affect even the strongest West European economies.
And on June 12, the French will elect a new parliament, where Macron, reelected just last month, needs a majority to implement his priorities. Moreover, at the end of June, Macron turns over Europe’s reins to the Czech Republic through December — when the war in Ukraine could well be won or lost.
It’s not like the EU didn’t know what it wanted to do. It simply couldn’t figure out how to get it done. On May 4, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed a total ban on European imports of oil from Russia — one element of a comprehensive sixth round of sanctions.
She did offer at least a carrot to the handful of countries that are deeply dependent on this oil — a “phase out in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes,” but with a clear six-month deadline. The goal was “maximizing pressure on Russia while at the same time minimizing collateral damage to us.”
At some point, Europe will have to make the hard decision whether unanimity is of greater importance than the ability to curb the activities of international outlaws. Only then will the West truly be in a position to influence those behaving badly.