The European Commission last week unveiled plans for ending Europe's dependence on Russian gas and oil. Vice President of the Commission Frans Timmermans admitted to ETV foreign affairs talk show "Välisilm" that shaking Russian gas will be extremely difficult.
The Russian gas tap could be closed for good in 2027, while it requires shifting the green turn into overdrive and investing over €200 billion. At the same time, governments have been unable to agree for weeks on sanctions to ban Russian oil imports.
Frans Timmermans is among the most influential politicians in Brussels. He fought passionate battles with Warsaw and Budapest over rule of law violations in Jean-Claude Juncker's Commission and is responsible for the green turn in Ursula von der Leyen's.
Timmermans, who speaks six languages and boasts an illustrious career in the Dutch foreign service, is under no illusion that dropping Russian gas will be easy.
"Bloody difficult. It really is very hard to get this done. But we have to. We have an obligation towards Ukrainians, fighting for their liberty, but also towards ourselves and our children, for our own liberty and independence. To become sovereign in energy. And the only way to become sovereign in the field of energy is to get rid of Russian gas and oil imports. Not just for the duration of this war, but forever," he said.
Companies should only deal with Gazprom in euros regarding Russian gas deliveries, Timmermans emphasized. Otherwise, they would be going along with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's game to try and save the Russian central bank through foreign currency.
Are companies opening accounts in Gazprombank where euros are converted into rubles playing fair or not?
"I can only repeat what I said. The contracts need to be fulfilled in euros and need to come with declarations that they are in euros. They cannot be paid in rubles," Timmermans said.
"We have to pay these contracts in euros, not in any other way. It is not allowed to pay in rubles."
Hungary is asking the EU for €15 billion to sever Russian oil exports to Europe. It is blocking sanctions.
"I find it a sad state of affairs that sanctions are being blocked. At the same time, I understand landlocked European countries that must have alternatives once Russian gas and oil is cut off. In the case of Poland and Bulgaria, we have seen other European countries come to their rescue – Germany has helped Poland, while Greece has helped Bulgaria," Timmermans said.
"We need to sanction Putin, we need to do it now, because he is waging a barbaric war on innocent people in Ukraine that cannot go unanswered. If there is a problem with gas and oil in Hungary, we need to solve it through solidarity and not through demands for huge amounts of money," he added.
Timmermans has spent years monitoring rule of law developments in Hungary and Poland. "Välisilm" asked him whether the EU should accept a government that proudly declares it is illiberal, where it is difficult to talk about free press and an independent judiciary. The European Commission has not managed to thwart the trend in Hungary so far.
"I have brought a host of legal procedures against Hungary, and I've won all of them. Today, the Commission is blocking Hungary's recovery money because of corruption. So, we cannot say that the Commission is doing nothing. We are being quite tough on Hungary. But I hope that other European governments now see that illiberal democracy is a direct threat to the European way of life, to our values. That someone who is so closely aligned with Putin, even a Putin who started this aggression against Ukraine, should be approached with caution to say the least," Timmermans said
"We are always very good at asking all sorts of things of countries that want to become members. But once they are members, states hesitate to address issues with their peers. Now, they have to face the reality of what is happening in Hungary, and I hope they will."
Is Timmermans concerned that the European Union's recent unity might develop cracks in the coming months?
"I am not worried, but we will need to see statesmanship. We will have to see European leaders stepping up to the plate, saying to their people that hard times are ahead. But we have to come through this period with solidarity and understand that if we do not stand up for each other we will allow Putin to divide and rule. Putin cannot emerge victorious here. It is unacceptable. It would be a direct threat to our security and stability. Therefore, I hope that through leadership and understanding of what is at stake, Europe will remain united. And I'm pretty confident that most if not all of our leaders understand this perfectly well," Timmermans replied.
Editor: Marcus Turovski