The New York Times has reported that European officials are drafting a secret plan to embargo Russian oil products. According to non-disclosed Times sources, the embargo is likely to come into effect after the French election on 24 April 2022. The delay is said to ensure any increase in fuel prices does not negatively impact President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to retain power–with rival Marine Le Pen running close behind in the polls. Given Le Pen’s stance on Russia and her opposition to any oil or gas embargo on Russia, a victory for Le Pen will have significant consequences for the EU’s plan.
Some European countries such as Germany and Hungary, both heavily reliant on Russian fossil fuels, may put a spanner in the works for a quick result. Hungary has called on EU leaders to determine what happens next, rather than leave decision making in the hands of senior diplomats or ministers.
But for now, the New York Times has stated that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s chief of staff, Bjӧrn Seibert is leading a small expert team to draft the new measures. Further reports suggest the plan will be debated by a small group of diplomats–with fears that any written proposal would be leaked to the public.
The plan has some support from the sector with the head of the European Council on Foreign Relations, noting that ‘sooner or later, buying Russian oil and gas’ “will become morally and politically unjustifiable”.
Russian oil usually costs the EU around €71 billion a year, with a further €16.3 billion spent on gas. According to Bruegel–a European economic think tank, since military action with Ukraine commenced in February 2022, EU demand for Russian gas and oil is costing upwards of $1 billion per day. Russian gas and oil account for 45% and 25% of EU exports, respectively. Bruegel has recommended that the EU develop strategic options to buy their gas and oil elsewhere–such as from the Middle East.
Whilst the Russian coal ban came into effect swiftly after allegations of Russian crimes in the Ukrainian city of Bucha, it is likely the planned oil and gas embargo will come into effect without a Bucha–like trigger. But the costs of such a move on an unprepared Europe could have ‘dramatic consequences’ for tens of thousands of German workers and industry. As Emily Haber, German Ambassador to the US tweeted, “Going cold turkey on fossil fuels from Russia would cause a massive, instant disruption. You cannot turn modern industrial plants on and off like a light switch. The knock-on effects would be felt beyond Germany, the EU’s economic engine and 4th largest economy in the world.”
For now, the European Union Leader’s Summit is scheduled for late May 2022, although this may be brought forward if further actions in Ukraine warrants an earlier session.