Negotiations on oil embargo: Orban’s next coup – how Hungary’s prime minister has once again outmaneuvered the EU

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    Brussels is once again moaning about Victor Orban. Once again, Hungary’s head of government has prevailed with his veto threats at the EU summit. Why does he always manage to do this?

    He’s done it again: At the EU summit in Brussels, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban was the focus of negotiations and international criticism as a blocker – and in the end he was able to prevail on many points. The dispute over the oil embargo against Russia pushed the originally planned discussions on defense issues and aid for Ukraine into the background.

    In the end, the 27 EU heads of state and government managed to resolve the blockade. Around midnight, Council President Charles Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen went before the press and announced a far-reaching embargo on Russian oil imports. For Budapest, however, Orban had negotiated significant exceptions.

    He saved Hungary from a “nuclear bomb,” the head of government later boasted on Facebook. “The European Commission’s proposal to ban the use of Russian oil in Hungary has been rejected (…) Families can rest easy tonight.”

    Hungary’s President with always the same stitch

    Orban’s approach is well known: For the domestic audience, he criticizes the “EU bureaucrats” against whom Hungarian interests must be defended. In Brussels he then threatens to use the veto, which every EU member is entitled to on sanctions issues, since unanimity is required at EU level.

    For his approval of the oil embargo, Orban initially demanded significantly more time and 800 million euros for the conversion of the Hungarian infrastructure. The EU Commission then made the offer to initially exempt oil deliveries by pipeline from the embargo. These account for around a third of imports for the entire EU. They are extremely important for landlocked Hungary, which cannot be supplied by ship.

    In Brussels, Orban then suddenly demanded additional guarantees should the Druzhba pipeline running through Ukraine be damaged. EU diplomats were surprised. Orban probably wanted to show that he could always maintain his veto threat, one suspected.

    Frustration could be felt from those close to French President Emmanuel Macron during the negotiations: “There is still an unknown: Viktor Orban,” it said. “I’ve given up trying to understand what’s going on in Viktor Orban’s mind,” said another EU diplomat.

    In the end, Orban received extensive commitments. Russian oil can be delivered to Hungary through the pipeline for years to come. The pressure on the EU leaders to demonstrate unity in the face of the war in Ukraine was too great.

    The ranks of Orban’s allies are thinning

    However, the Hungarian had to increase the escalation level again. The ranks of his allies have also thinned noticeably in the meantime. On migration issues, Orban has always had a number of EU states, at least silently, behind his tough course of isolation. When it came to climate protection, it was primarily the eastern states that also demanded more EU money for investments.

    The long-standing toleration of former Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Union was lost to him last year at the latest when he was prevented from being expelled from the conservative European party family. His Fidesz party has not yet found a new political home on the European level.

    When criticizing the undemocratic restructuring of institutions in Hungary, Orban was always able to rely on Poland, which is faced with similar allegations. But Budapest has also alienated Warsaw with its pro-Russia course.

    In addition, Orban has not achieved one of his goals for the time being: there is no fresh money from Brussels for the time being. Because the EU Commission has linked the aid for energy security in the member states to the criteria of the Corona development fund. And the Corona billions for Hungary are frozen because Brussels is concerned about mismanagement of Hungarian funds due to controversial judicial reforms.

    Orban will probably have treated himself to a glass after the long negotiations on Monday: the longest-serving head of government in an EU country turned 59 on Tuesday.