Hungarian government officials, Fidesz cold shoulder US bipartisan delegation visiting Budapest

Hungarian government officials, Fidesz cold shoulder US bipartisan delegation visiting Budapest
US Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman receives bipartisan delegation led by Senator (D) Jane Shaheen in Budapest. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews February 19, 2024
Senior Hungarian government officials and Fidesz parliamentary representatives declined to meet with the bipartisan US Congressional delegation on a mission focused on strategic issues confronting Nato and Hungary on February 18 in Budapest.

The delegation included Senator Shaheen, a Democrat, and Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican, who both co-chair the Senate Nato Observer Group, and Senator Chris Murphy and Chris Van Hollen, Democrats and members of the Committee on Foreign Relations. The US senators arrived in Hungary after the Munich Security Policy Conference, where they also held talks with Swedish ministers about the country’s Nato accession.

The pressure is growing on Budapest to ratify Sweden's Nato membership when Parliament reconvenes after its winter break on February 26. Allies have been awaiting Hungary’s action on Sweden’s accession to the military alliance for 21 months, the US Embassy said in a Facebook post, adding that members of the delegation held "valuable discussions" with members of various political parties.

Shaheen at a press conference in Budapest expressed his disappointment, saying this kind of reception was very unusual. "We could have talked about issues that affect both the United States, Europe and Hungary, such as human rights and free and fair elections. We would also have talked about trade between the two countries", he added.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto set the tone on Friday, saying the US congressional delegation should not try to put pressure on the country, underlining that Hungary "is a sovereign country". "Our position on the ratification of Sweden's Nato membership is clear," Szijjarto said. "We await the Swedish prime minister's visit to Hungary. I think that if he was able to visit Turkey during the ratification process, then he can also pay us a visit."

Shaheen noted Hungary was the last Nato member whose parliament had still not ratified Sweden's accession to the alliance, adding that the prime minister had earlier said it wouldn't be the last one to do so. Shaheen said she trusted the prime minister would honour a pledge made in his state of the nation address on Saturday that Hungarian lawmakers would ratify Sweden's Nato accession at the start of Parliament's spring session.

In his state of the nation speech in Budapest on Saturday, Orban signalled that Hungary's legislature might soon move forward to finalise the procedure, adding he and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson had taken steps "to rebuild trust" between their two countries, but did not elaborate.

According to press reports, Hungary and Sweden may be working on a military agreement concerning the Gripen aircraft, which Hungary leases from Sweden until 2026.

According to AP, two US senators will submit a bipartisan resolution to Congress urging the Hungarian government to approve Sweden's accession into the military alliance, which jeopardises trans-Atlantic security at a key moment for peace.

The document also condemns democratic backsliding in Hungary and criticises Hungary’s nationalist leader for meddling in the country's media landscape, restricting civil liberties, and seeking to crack down on dissenting voices and increasingly warm relations with Russia and China.

The delay of the ratification process has come to a point where the US is considering measures against Hungary.

The Biden Administration should be examining whether Hungary truly is a trusted partner deserving of participating in the Visa Waiver Program, US Senator Ben Cardin (D.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a statement after US lawmakers met with David Pressman earlier this month. He hinted that the US may initiate sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act.

Fidesz boycotted an extraordinary session of parliament called by opposition lawmakers on February 6 to finalise the ratification process. Ambassadors of 16 Nato member countries attended the parliamentary session.

At a press conference later that day, David Pressman said the delay directly affects the national security of the United States and the security of the alliance as a whole, a stark and unequivocal message sent to the Hungarian government.