Editorial: Hungary Last Man Standing on Sweden

Analysis

Photo by Jeppe Gustafsson / Shutterstock.com

We marked a somber anniversary on Jan. 24, on month shy of two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

What President Vladimir Putin insists on calling a “special military operation” has now lasted half as long as World War I, a conflict that the ground war, at least, increasingly resembles with its trenches, murderous battles over meters of land, and talk of stalemate.

Among the many consequences of Putin’s invasion was the conclusion reached by Finland and Sweden that the Russian leader was no longer a state actor who could be trusted and that their national security was better guaranteed by joining NATO than remaining neutral. In a coordinated move, the two countries duly handed in official application letters on May 18, 2022. Finland’s bid was ratified relatively smoothly, and it became the 31st member of the military alliance on April 4, 2023. Sweden still waits but has taken a significant step nearer. On Jan. 23, one day before the war’s second anniversary, Türkiye’s parliament approved Sweden’s bid to join. President Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to sign it into law in the coming days.

That leaves Hungary as the only holdout, despite repeatedly saying it would not be the last to ratify. As recently as December, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said Hungary had repeated that promise after a meeting with Péter Szijjártó. To be clear, Hungary’s top politicians have long insisted they don’t have a problem with Sweden joining, suggesting that the real issue is MPs in Parliament, upset by comments Sweden has made on the quality of democracy here.

On the day this issue of the Budapest Business Journal went to print, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán spoke with NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg. “I reaffirmed that the Hungarian government supports the NATO-membership of #Sweden. I also stressed that we will continue to urge the Hungarian National Assembly to vote in favor of Sweden’s accession and conclude the #ratification at the first possible opportunity,” he posted on X (formerly Twitter). Stoltenberg’s reply? “Good call with @PM_ViktorOrban of #Hungary. I welcome the clear support of the Prime Minister and his government for #Sweden’s #NATO membership. I look forward to the ratification as soon as parliament reconvenes.”

On Jan. 23, the PM’s press chief, Bertalan Havasi, announced that Orbán had invited Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson, to Hungary to address Sweden’s NATO accession, according to state news agency MTI. According to AP, Billström saw no need to negotiate. “What we hope is, of course, that Hungary will ratify the membership as soon as possible.” Hungary now looks dangerously isolated. International news wire The Associated Press says a vote on Sweden’s accession hasn’t even been put on parliament’s agenda. Unless an emergency session is called, the matter will not go before lawmakers until at least late February. The next move is surely with Hungary.

*****

The BBJ was saddened to hear of the death after a long illness of the wife of British Ambassador Paul Fox on Jan. 18. A brief message put out by the embassy said Vicki Fox had died peacefully at home in the United Kingdom, surrounded by family.

“Paul has indicated that he will be returning to Budapest after the funeral and settling back into life here. We look forward to having him back with us; he has been very much missed. He’s mentioned how very much he and Vicki have valued the kind support of friends and colleagues in Hungary over recent months and asked us to pass on his thanks,” the embassy statement said.

The thoughts and prayers of everyone at the BBJ go out to Ambassador Fox and his family.

Robin Marshall

Editor-in-chief

This editorial was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of January 26, 2024.

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