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ENERGY

Germany sees Russian oil embargo agreement in a ‘few days’

A European agreement on a Russian oil embargo is possible "within a few days", the German economy minister has said, as the bloc struggles to reach a consensus on a boycott.

Robert Habeck, Vice Chancellor and Minister for Economic Affairs, speaks at a panel discussion during the 51st Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.
Robert Habeck, Vice Chancellor and Minister for Economic Affairs, speaks at a panel discussion during the 51st Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/KEYSTONE | Laurent Gillieron

“There are only a few states left who have issues, Hungary above all,” Robert Habeck told public broadcaster ZDF on Monday night.

“I think we will achieve a breakthrough within the next few days,” Habeck said, adding that discussions were “continuing”.

A Russian oil embargo in response to the invasion of Ukraine was “within reach,” he said.

Brussels initially proposed that most member states halt Russian crude imports over the next six months and refined fuels by the end of the year.

READ ALSO: ‘Russia must not win this war,’ says Germany’s Scholz

But Hungary has so far refused to back the plan put forward by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Hungary – whose populist leader Viktor Orban has been a rare ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Europe – said it could not support the plan “in this form”, as it would “completely destroy” the security of its energy supply.

Brussels has offered Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia long grace periods to phase out Russian oil imports but that has not yet convinced Budapest to budge.

Hungary, often the odd one out in EU decision making, has demanded an exemption from the embargo for at least four years and wants €800 million in EU funds to re-tool a refinery and boost the capacity of a pipeline to Croatia.

The outbreak of the war in Ukraine has prompted EU states to try and rapidly reduce their dependence on Russian energy imports, including natural gas.

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POLITICS

Scholz says Germany to become biggest NATO force in Europe

Germany's investments in defence in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine will transform it into the biggest contributor to NATO in Europe, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday.

Scholz says Germany to become biggest NATO force in Europe

Alongside the United States, Germany is “certainly making the largest contribution” to NATO, Scholz said in an interview with the ARD broadcaster.

Speaking at the close of a summit of leaders from the Group of Seven rich democracies, Scholz said Germany was in the process of creating “the largest conventional army within the NATO framework in Europe”.

Days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Scholz announced a 100-billion-euro ($105-billion) fund to beef up Germany’s military defences and offset decades of chronic underfunding.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Bundestag approves €100 billion fund to beef up defences

He also promised to meet NATO’s target of spending two percent of GDP on defence, answering years of criticism from close allies that Berlin was failing to contribute enough to the alliance.

Russia’s invasion had led to a renewed conviction “that we should spend more money on defence”, Scholz said.

“We will spend an average of around 70 to 80 billion euros a year on defence over the next few years,” he said, meaning “Germany is the country that invests the most in this”.

Scholz’s announcement in February was seen as a major policy shift, upending Germany’s traditionally cautious approach to defence as a result of its post-war guilt.

Germany had steadily reduced the size of its army since the end of the Cold War from around 500,000 at the time of reunification in 1990 to just 200,000.

NATO allies are from Tuesday gathering in Madrid for a summit, where the United States is expected to announce new long-term military deployments across Europe.

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