Finland, Sweden Told Hungary Will Back NATO Application

Ukraine Crisis

From left, Adriány Kincső, executive director of the United Way partner organization, Roland Schilling, chief of the Central European Representation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and State Secretary for Church and Ethnic Relations Miklós Soltész at the presentation of the Hungarian chapter of the Regional Asylum Coordination Framework 2023 at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on March 7, 2023. Under the framework the Regional Refugee Action Plan intends to spend USD 1.7 billion to help refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine in 10 countries, including Hungary, between January and December 2023.

Photo by Zoltán Máthé / MTI.

Hungary is primed to approve the accession of Sweden and Finland into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a Hungarian delegation told their counterparts in Stockholm on March 7, and at a similar meeting held in Helsinki the following day, according to a report from Bloomberg News.

“We made it clear that the Hungarian government, the Hungarian president, the prime minister and most Hungarian lawmakers clearly support a Swedish NATO membership,” Csaba Hende, a member of the Hungarian delegation and a former defense minister, told Sweden’s TT News Agency.

Although Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had previously said that he was in favor of Sweden and Finland joining NATO, he had added that members of his ruling Fidesz party were “deeply divided” on the matter, claiming that the governments of both countries had “spread outright lies” about Hungary.

According to Maté Kocsis, leader of the Fidesz parliamentary group, MPs argued that Swedish and Finnish politicians had “publicly insulted” Hungary over the past few years. In light of these grievances, he explained that MPs have been inhibited from expediently approving the countries’ requests to join NATO, which they characterized as “asking a favor.”

Consequently, Hungary dispatched a parliamentary delegation to Sweden and Finland on February 24, ostensibly to gather information regarding the countries’ accession to the military alliance, as reported by state news agency MTI, but Orbán later clarified they were sent to seek explanations regarding the perceived slights.

This was confirmed by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó when he met with his Swedish counterpart, Tobias Billström on February 27.

‘Clear the Matter Up’

“How can a fast and fair decision be expected when we have continuously heard recently that there is no democracy in Hungary, that the rule of law is not ensured in Hungary, that there is no freedom of press, and that the independence of the judiciary is not guaranteed?” Szijjártó inquired. He added that such allegations question the legitimacy of MPs’ mandates from voters, which is why he said a “discussion to clear the matter up is necessary.”

Although Kocsis had said that sending a delegation would neither extend nor postpone the process in which the Parliament weighed the ratification of the two countries’ accession, it had once again postponed the vote to ratify the accession of Sweden and Finland on March 2. The Parliament is now scheduled to ratify NATO’s enlargement in the week of March 20, according to the latest agenda on its website.

Meanwhile, in his address to the spring session of Parliament on February 27, Orbán reiterated his government’s stand on remaining out of the war in Ukraine and continued to emphasize the need for a ceasefire and peace talks. He said the war is “bad for Ukrainians, bad for Russians, bad for Hungarians, bad for Europe and [...] bad for the whole world,” adding that “nobody can win.”

Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, had earlier expressed a similar sentiment, reaffirming the government’s position on “staying out” of the war in a weekly press briefing on February 25. He added that Hungary would persist in not delivering weapons to Ukraine, but would continue to provide humanitarian assistance.

In a video message broadcast on Ukrainian television channels on February 24, the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, President Katalin Novák expressed her sympathy to the beleaguered nation.

“The war has been raging for a year now and we still cannot see the end of it,” she said. “Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty cannot be called into question,” the President stressed, adding that “the war criminals deserve to be punished.”

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of March 10, 2023.

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