Budapest – Hungary’s parliament on Monday approved Finland’s bid to join NATO, ending months of delays and bringing the Nordic country one step closer to becoming a full member of the Western military alliance.
The measure, which passed by 182 votes to six, came after Hungary’s government had frustrated NATO and European Union allies for months by repeatedly postponing the vote after almost all other alliance members ratified Finland’s bid.
While Hungary’s approval was greeted with relief in Helsinki and elsewhere, NATO membership for Sweden remained up in the air as members of Hungary’s ruling party insisted they will wait for Stockholm to sort out lingering differences before going to a vote. Finland and Sweden jointly applied for membership after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
A general view of the Hungarian Parliament as it votes for the ratification of Finland’s NATO membership in Budapest, Hungary, on March 27, 2023.
Adding to the uncertainty surrounding Sweden’s bid are Turkey’s own objections, among accusations that Stockholm is too soft on groups it considers to be terrorist organizations.
Agnes Vadai, a lawmaker with Hungary’s opposition Democratic Coalition party, said on Monday that the ruling Fidesz party had used “pretexts” to delay ratification for the two countries, and that further suspension could push a vote on Sweden into early April or until and with May.
“There is no real reason not to support these countries,” Vadai, a former foreign minister in Hungary’s defense ministry, told The Associated Press. “NATO accession should not be a matter of personal feelings and blackmail.”
Turkey is now the only one of the 30 NATO members that has not ratified Finland’s accession. Full unanimity is required to admit a new member to the alliance.
However, Turkey’s parliamentary committee on foreign affairs last week approved Finland’s application for NATO membership and a vote on membership is expected to be held before Turkey’s May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections.
While Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has long signaled his country’s support for NATO expansion, his government has claimed that Swedish and Finnish politicians have told “blatant lies” about the state of Hungary’s democracy, leaving some ruling party lawmakers unsure whether to support the Hungarian democracy. connection bid.
In an interview with the AP at the United Nations on Friday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that the West’s constant criticism of Hungary on democratic and cultural issues had made its government unwilling to provide support on practical issues, particularly NATO’s build-up against Russia.
The EU, which includes 21 NATO countries, has for years accused Orban’s government of cracking down on media freedom and LGBT rights, overseeing an entrenched culture of official corruption and colluding with state institutions to serve the interests of the ruling Fidesz party.
Some Hungarian opposition politicians and analysts believe the country’s delayed ratification was aimed at pressuring Sweden and Finland to support the release of billions in EU funds earmarked for Budapest that have been frozen due to alleged violations of the bloc’s rule of law norms.
But Samuel Agoston Mraz, head of the pro-government think tank Nezopont Intezet in Budapest, said Hungary will not do anything about Sweden until Turkey decides whether to accept the country’s bid for NATO membership.
Mraz said Hungary “does not want to make decisions against the Turks” and wants guarantees from Stockholm to improve bilateral relations.
“Hungary is a supporter of a united NATO. It does not believe in Turkey versus all other member states,” Mraz told the AP.