Resolution of Sweden’s NATO bid Finally in Sight

Ukraine Crisis

Republican Senator Thom Tillis, followed by Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen (left) and Chris Murphy, speaks during a press conference given by the U.S. Senate bipartisan delegation at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, on Feb. 18.

Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák / MTI.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán promised the Hungarian Parliament would ratify Sweden’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), once lawmakers reconvene for the spring session later this month, during his annual State of the Nation address on Feb. 17.

Breaking a two-century-long precedent of neutrality, Sweden had applied to join the military alliance in May 2022, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of that year. Hungary remains the only country in the alliance yet to approve the accession, which requires unanimity.

“It’s good news that our dispute with Sweden will soon be settled,” Orbán told his supporters during the annual address. “We are going in the direction that at the start of parliament’s spring session, we can ratify Sweden’s accession to NATO.”

Orbán acknowledged that he and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson had made progress “to rebuild trust” between the two countries. On Feb. 5, the opposition had called an extraordinary meeting of Parliament to ratify Sweden’s NATO bid, which lawmakers from the ruling Fidesz party had boycotted, insisting that Kristersson visit Budapest before they did so.

During a visit to Warsaw on Feb. 19, Kristersson said he would visit Orbán in Budapest to discuss the approval of Sweden’s NATO bid.

“We have had a few pieces of conversation this week,” Kristersson told a joint news conference with his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk. “I look forward to have [sic] the meeting, and I look forward to Sweden’s NATO accession.” The next day, Orbán’s press chief Bertalan Havasi confirmed that Kristersson would come to Budapest on Feb. 23, at the invitation of the Hungarian PM.

“It will be my pleasure to welcome @SwedishPM Ulf Kristersson in Budapest this Friday,” Orbán said on X (formerly Twitter). “We are planning to discuss how to strengthen the defense and security policy cooperation between #Hungary and #Sweden, as well as our plans for the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the EU’s Strategic Agenda.”

Parliamentary Request

Earlier that same day, the head of Fidesz’ parliamentary group, Máté Kocsis, posted a letter to House Speaker László Kövér on Facebook, in which he requested that a vote on the ratification of Sweden’s NATO accession be put on the agenda for the start of the Parliament’s spring session on Feb. 26. He added that Fidesz MPs were in favor of backing the ratification.

While Hungary was keen on meeting Swedish leadership over the issue of the country’s acceptance into NATO, it was not as forthcoming with some other allies.

A bipartisan delegation of U.S. Senators, including Democrats Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and Republican Thom Tillis of North Carolina, visited Hungary on Feb. 18 “on a mission focused on strategic issues confronting NATO and Hungary,” the U.S. Embassy had said in a statement earlier on Feb. 16.

However, upon their arrival, Shaheen said it was “disappointing” that no members of the Hungarian Government had accepted invitations to meet the delegation. Earlier, Shaheen and Tillis, who co-chair the Senate NATO Observer Group, said they would submit a bipartisan resolution to Congress condemning democratic backsliding in Hungary.

In the resolution, a copy of which was obtained by international newswire service The Associated Press, the senators note “the important role Hungary can have in European and trans-Atlantic security.”

However, it also notes that Hungary “has not joined all other NATO member states in approving the accession of Sweden to NATO, failing to fulfill a commitment not to be last to approve such accession and jeopardizing trans-Atlantic security at a key moment for peace and stability in Europe,” the resolution says.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of February 23, 2024.

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