HomeGlobal Defence UpdatesLast holdout Hungary ratifies Sweden's NATO bid

Last holdout Hungary ratifies Sweden’s NATO bid

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Hungary’s parliament on Monday ratified Sweden’s NATO bid, clearing the final obstacle for an enlargement of the military alliance spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The vote ends more than a year of delays that left fellow NATO partners furious as Ukraine battled Russian troops.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said it was a “historic day”.

Russia’s February 2022 invasion prompted Sweden and neighbouring Finland to apply to join the bloc, ending a long-standing stance of non-alignment in both countries.

But while Finland became the 31st member of the US-led defence alliance in April last year, Sweden’s bid was held up. Turkey only ratified it last month.

On Monday, Hungary finally followed, with 188 members of parliament voting in favour and six against Sweden’s accession.”Today is a historic day… Sweden stands ready to shoulder its responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security,” Kristersson said in a statement to X.Earlier Monday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor had asked fellow lawmakers to approve Sweden’s bid.

“The Swedish-Hungarian military cooperation and Sweden’s accession to NATO will strengthen Hungary’s security,” Orban told parliament.

Ahead of the vote, Orban’s nationalist Fidesz party — whose ruling coalition with the Christian Democratic KDNP holds a two-thirds majority in parliament — had indicated it would support Sweden’s bid.

All opposition parties except the far-right Our Homeland movement were in favour of ratification.

Though repeatedly saying it supported Swedish membership in principle, Hungary kept prolonging the process by asking Stockholm to stop “vilifying” the Hungarian government.

Budapest accused Swedish officials of being “keen to bash Hungary” on rule-of-law issues.

After a meeting on Friday between Orban and Kristersson in Budapest, the nationalist Hungarian leader announced that the two had clarified “our mutual good intentions”.

Hungary also signed a deal to acquire four Swedish-made fighter jets, expanding its existing fleet of 14 Jas-39 Gripen fighters.

Now that parliament has approved the Nordic nation’s bid, the president is expected to sign it in the coming days.

Sweden will then be invited to accede to the Washington Treaty and officially become NATO’s 32d member.

In the case of Finland, Turkey was the last to give the green light on March 30, 2023, and Finland became a NATO member on April 4.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, most NATO members were keen to quickly approve the membership bids of both Finland and Sweden.

For Sweden, Ankara cited security concerns, before moving ahead with the ratification.

In Hungary’s delay, some experts saw a strategy to wring concessions from Brussels to unlock billions of euros in frozen funds.

Others argued it underlined Orban’s closeness to the presidents of Russia and Turkey.

For analyst Mate Szalai of Venice’s Ca’ Foscari University, Orban was simply playing to his domestic audience.

“Orban wanted to go as far as he could without causing serious problems to the Transatlantic community while proving that Hungary is a power to be reckoned with,” he told AFP.

While Hungary’s “confrontational behaviour” did not reap any tangible results, it might have “been beneficial domestically for the ruling Fidesz party”, he added.

“Many initiatives of the Hungarian government are designed to provoke a backlash in Europe,” said Szalai.

“And most criticism expressed towards the Orban government (from outside Hungary) actually helps Fidesz to maintain its popularity in the country.”

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