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EC's proposed oil embargo 'unacceptable' for Hungary, Orbán says

EU

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A proposal by the European Commission to phase in an embargo on Russian oil is unacceptable for Hungary as it fails to take into account the physical circumstances of the country's energy supply and flies in the face of a consensus reached earlier by European Union leaders, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in a weekly interview on public radio on Friday.

Orbán said on Kossuth Rádió that the proposal, announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen earlier in the week, doesn't consider that landlocked Hungary relies on pipelines for its oil, while the country's main refinery is technically reliant on Russian crude.

Refitting the refinery would cost "several hundred billion forints", while a switch to alternative sources of crude would raise prices at the pump to HUF 700 for a liter of petrol and HUF 800 per liter of diesel, he explained.

"We cannot accept such a proposal that doesn't take these circumstances into account, because this proposal, in its current form, is equivalent to dropping a nuclear bomb on the Hungarian economy," he said.

"The proposal on the table creates a problem for Hungary and presents no solution. That is unacceptable from the point of view of Hungarian interests," he added.

Orbán said shifting Hungary's crude supply sources would have to be undertaken at the same time as an upgrade of the entire Hungarian energy system, including an expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant and the addition of more solar power. That process would cost "several thousand billion forints" and take five years, he added.

The PM said the EC's proposal also disregards the consensus reached by EU leaders at a summit in Versailles in March on ensuring that sanctions on Russia take into account the varied energy mixes of member states and acknowledging national sovereignty over those energy mixes.

Noting that he had responded to the proposal in a letter sent to von der Leyen on Thursday, Orbán warned that an embargo would threaten Hungary's regulated pricing system for household utilities.

"If the Hungarian issue is not resolved, and they still introduce an oil embargo or a gas embargo...it will spell the end of the regulated pricing system for household utilities. This battle I am fighting is a battle for that system," he said.

Orbán said Hungary has a "completely different view" of sanctions, pointing out that sanctions imposed after the annexation of Crimea "hurt us more than Russia". "And I think that's true now, too," he added.

The PM acknowledged the degree of support sanctions have among EU member states and noted that Hungary supported the first five sanction packages.

"If everybody's driving in the opposite direction going down the motorway, you're wise to consider a change of direction," he said.

He said Hungary has to preserve its veto right for "the most important matters" if it doesn't want "to lose all of its friends", but sanctions affecting oil and gas are "a red line".

Orbán reiterated that Hungary "must stay out of this war".

He said that while some countries may "take sides" in a war, historical experience suggests Hungary should "take a position" based on its interests.

"We have a position, and it is peace....We are not on one warring side or the other, we are on the side of peace. And all steps the government takes serve the goal of achieving a cease-fire and the start of peace talks as soon as possible," he said.

Orbán said he expects to present the new members of his government "between May 20 and 30".

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