The Russian Oil embargo, and the ever-growing price of European Unity

For all the talk of the hard dose of “Unity” Vladimir Putin has injected between Europe’s toes, two of its leaders had to deliver very different messages to their people on Tuesday morning (31 May).

On the one hand, we had Hungary’s newly re-elected Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose face decorates novelty items from Fine Gael’s canteen dartboard to the Irish Times’ toilet lids to Ursula Von Der Leyen’s welcome mat. Orban broadcast at 1am to announce that:

“We have managed to defeat the Commission proposal to ban the use of oil from Russia in Hungary.”

Referring to a proposal to ban the sale of Russian oil across the European Union, no matter the catastrophe such a move would represent for all of our economies, Hungary successfully negotiated a caveat allowing for the continued provision of Russian oil to European countries linked to Siberia by pipelines, including Hungary. Wrapping up, Orban said that the cost of depriving the Hungarian economy of Russian oil could not be borne at a time of already high food and fuel prices and war, and that “Families can sleep well tonight as the most perverse idea has been averted.”

On the other hand we have our Taoiseach, Micheal Martin. The Very Decent Man™ – who deigned to queue for a vaccine with the small folk (remember?) – decided to get a sound night’s sleep and a good continental breakfast before appearing with Europe Minister Thomas Byrne at 9am to let the Irish know that we, by contrast to the Hungarians, would be “Entering a new era” of even higher fuel prices, owing to the impending removal of tundran oil from Irish pumps. Adopting the stately tone we haven’t heard since his near-nightly pandemic broadcasts in the key of Hoxha, the Taoiseach took the opportunity to hail the European unity that had delivered the sanctions, and the havok they would wreak on Putin’s bottom line.

We’ve all suffered an awful lot for European “Unity” over the last 15 years. From the warnings of financial bombs going off in Dublin if we didn’t accept a Bailout, to the money-printing monetary policy that Germany benefitted from but that Ireland pays for and can’t control, we have been bleeding profusely on the Omaha Beach of European “Unity” for the better part of two decades now. It hasn’t all been for nothing. The Enniscorthy bypass is very smooth to drive on if you can still afford it, and I’m grateful that, if we wanted to, my boyfriend and I could see just how “LGBT Free” Bialystok is without needing visas. But this new raft of new sanctions in response to an ageing war that we’re told our buddies are winning anyway is a back breaker.

By only affecting oil that has been imported by ship, the sanctions leave Ireland out at sea and disproportionately impact the people of island countries like ours in such a way as will reduce the responsibilities of the landlocked countries who proposed the compromise like Hungary. It’s about as united as curdled milk, and it’s wholly and squarely on the already crowded shoulders of the Very Decent Man™ who hasn’t the strength to oppose it or the genuine decency to admit it to us and tell us what it means for us candidly. Irexiteers couldn’t ask for a better advocate.

It’s also not Hungary’s fault, per se. Can Viktor Orban be blamed for putting the needs of Hungarian people before the needs of Irish people when they came into conflict? Is it his fault that he has the legal power and the political nous to enable him to wrestle a better deal for his people than our yobs did for us? Is he to blame for the needs of Irish and Hungarian people being bound together hand and foot in a one size fits all way that ignores the basic daily realities of both countries?

Of course he isn’t. If anything, we’re told he’s amongst the greatest threats to the system that protects the nonsense and preserves the status quo, so maybe, in the long run, it’s for our own good?



Killian Foley Walsh is a writer, and the former President of Young Fine Gael

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