As EU foreign ministers met in emergency session to discuss conflicts in Ukraine, Iraq and Gaza, its economic sanctions against Russia are coming under fire from eastern European countries.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban was the latest to criticise the sanctions and call for a rethink saying: “The sanctions policy pursued by the West, that is, ourselves – a necessary consequence of which has been what the Russians are doing – causes more harm to us than to Russia. In politics, this is called shooting oneself in the foot.”
“The EU should not only compensate producers somehow, be they Polish, Slovak, Hungarian or Greek, who now have to suffer losses, but the entire sanctions policy should be reconsidered,” Orban added.
Export-driven Hungary is heavily reliant on energy imports from Russia, which is also the country’s largest trading partner outside the European Union, with exports worth 2.55 billion euros in 2013.
Orban’s remarks came a day after the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, dubbed the sanctions as “meaningless” saying they would threaten the European Union’s economic growth.
Similarly the Czech president Milos Zeman has said the sanctions against Russia will not work but will harm economic relations and increase distrust among states.
“Don’t sell to Russia”
At issue at the foreign ministers meeting on Friday was how to pressure countries like Turkey, Egypt and Brazil. They plan to step up exports to Russia after Moscow banned much food from Europe in retaliation for sanctions.
Earlier EU officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one possibility was to hold talks to dissuade those alternative suppliers from selling to Russia the food Moscow will no longer receive from Europe or other Western nations.
“We understand that individual exporters may decide to use opportunities,” one official said.
“But to have countries actively supporting and encouraging replacing European or American exports, or Australian, which have been banned by the Russian Federation, it seems to us from the political point of view to be something which is hard to justify.”
Other officials said that was not practical. One described it as “fantasy politics”.
Help for farmers
A day earlier EU agriculture officials discussed how to reduce the impact on Europe’s farmers.
Analysts say Russia could be inflicting the sharpest pain on itself as it will drive up food prices for its consumers and stoke inflation, but growers in the EU are concerned gluts of fresh fruit and other produce will severely undermine the prices they can charge.
Some nations are more affected than others. Poland is suffering from the loss of its biggest apple buyer, and France, the bloc’s leading agricultural economy, is nervous the hundreds of thousands of Polish apples Russia does not import will drive down the value of French produce.
Brussels does have an emergency fund of some 420 million euros to compensate producers for sudden market distortions.
The European Commission, the EU executive, said decisions could be made very swiftly on whether the fund can be used, but they first need adequate data from member states to show who needs it most.
It has already announced support for peach and nectarine growers.
The Commission said the sector had been suffering from a price collapse before the Russian ban, although the embargo worsened their situation and confirmed the need for action.
In all, EU farm exports to Russia are worth around 11 billion euros a year, roughly 10 percent of all EU agricultural sales.