Czech government seeks exemption from Russian oil ban

The Czech Republic is one of the countries that have called for a two-to-three-year transition period from the EU’s plan to ban Russian oil imports. Within this timeframe, the government hopes to enlarge alternate delivery systems such as the TAL pipeline running from Italy. But to do this, Czechia first needs to secure approval from current TAL users – Germany, Italy and Austria.

Speaking to the European Parliament on Wednesday, Ursula von der Leyen proposed one of the toughest packages of sanctions on Russia yet, which would include cutting Russia’s largest bank Sberbank from the SWIFT payment system and banning crude oil imports from the Kremlin.

The European Commission is hoping to get the sanctions package approved within the next few days. However, member state Hungary has rejected the current proposal. Meanwhile, Slovakia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic have called for two-to-three-year-long exemptions.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, the Czech prime minister explained the reasons for his country’s stance on the subject.

“We are ready to support this decision under the condition that the Czech Republic will be able to delay its implementation until the capacity of oil pipelines leading into the Czech Republic is increased.”

Jozef Síkela | Photo: Office of Czech Government

Industry and Trade Minister Jozef Síkela said that Czechia’s current oil reserves would only allow the country to cover domestic demand for a period of 94 days. Thereafter the country would likely run into difficulties as there simply isn’t a sufficient alternate pipeline infrastructure to cover the lack of Russian deliveries.

According to a government assessment presented by the minister on Wednesday, the fastest way to switch would be to expand the Transalpine Pipeline (TAL), which moves oil from Italy’s port city of Trieste through Austria and Germany.

“This pipeline currently has the capacity of around 38 million tons a year and, technically, is ready to be expanded by a further 2.5 million tons a year. Currently, the pipeline’s expansion is pending approval from the authorities of the German state of Bavaria.”

Mr Síkela said that he asked Germany’s Industry Minister Robert Habeck about the possibility of speeding up the approval process and got a positive response. But even if the enlargement does get approved, the Czech trade minister expects that TAL will need to be expanded even further, to 48 million tons per year, so that it can fully replace the imports currently coming in through Russia’s Druzhba oil pipeline system.

“We will also try to ensure that our share of the oil that we would receive from the TAL pipeline will cover the 4 million tons that we receive from the Druzhba pipeline. This is exactly what we are currently discussing with Italy, Germany, Austria and the EU.”

If it secures the necessary approval, the Czech government expects the expansion of the TAL pipeline could take around two years.