Hungary finally ratifies Finland's Nato accession

Hungary finally ratifies Finland's Nato accession
Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed that opposition in parliament was holding up the ratification but this alleged obstacle was swiftly overcome when Turkey moved towards ratifying Finland's accession. / bne IntelliNews
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest March 28, 2023

Hungarian lawmakers ratified Finland's accession to Nato in a vote on March 27, nine months after the country applied for membership of the military alliance. MPs supported the country's accession with a vote of 182 for, 6 against and no abstentions.

The ratification of Sweden’s membership was not even on the agenda on Monday and the government has not signalled when the vote on Swedish accession might be. 

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been holding up Nato accession of Finland and Sweden in what is seen as an attempt to put pressure on the two countries and the European Union over the bloc's freeze on  billions in EU funds because of Hungary's rampant corruption and violation of the bloc's values on the rule of law.

This strategy of obstructing the strengthening of Nato has further isolated Orban's regime in Europe, with even its erstwhile ally Poland criticising it over its continued close relations with Vladimir Putin's dictatorship and its reluctance to impose sanctions or support Ukraine. Hungary continues to be dependent on Russian oil and gas and has fought inside the EU to be able to maintain those links.

Orban has claimed that opposition from some MPs in the Fidesz-dominated parliament was holding up the ratification but this alleged obstacle was swiftly overcome when Turkey moved towards ratifying Finland's accession, which would have left Hungary as the last holdout.

All Nato countries have to ratify a new member's application to join. Turkey's strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan is still refusing to ratify Sweden's accession.

Some commentators have seen the ratification of Finland's accession as a sign that Orban is finally preparing to slowly loosen his ties to Russia and return Hungary to the European mainstream. Orban commented earlier this month that he was reconsidering his pro-Russia stance as a result of “shifting geopolitical realities”, in an apparent reference to the dragging out of the war and the West's continued commitment to sanctions against Moscow.

“I understand the need to rebuild Russian-European relations after the war but that’s far from realistic,” Orban said on March 9. “That’s why Hungary’s foreign and economic policy needs to think hard about what sort of relations we can establish and maintain with Russia  in the next 10 to 15 years.”

Hungary has also recently signalled that it may ask France's Framatome to take over more of the work on its Paks nuclear power plant expansion from Russia's Rosatom.

“There is an intent to correct course,” Peter Krekó, director of the Hungarian think-tank Political Capital told the Financial Times, adding that Orbán’s anti-western, pro-Russian politics “will take time to unwind”.

The ratification was welcomed by Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Martin. She tweeted: "The Nato membership of Finland and Sweden will strengthen the security of the whole alliance. It is in everyone's interest that Sweden also becomes a member of Nato before the Vilnius Summit."

For long, Hungarian officials argued that Hungary had no objections to Sweden’s and Finland’s membership, but parliament was busy with other issues. The narrative changed in February, when Prime Minister Viktor Orban asked MEPs to support the accession at a closed two-day faction meeting ahead of the spring session of parliament.

According to the official communication, a serious argument erupted among MPs on the issue. This was part of a show, analysts note, as Fidesz MPs have seldom, if ever, engaged in a debate with the prime minister.

Fidesz politician accused Finland and Sweden of spreading "outright lies" about democracy and the rule of law in Hungary and used that as a pretext to hold up the ratification procedure. At the end of the talks, the Hungarian delegation said all obstacles were cleared and officials set March 31 as the date for the vote for both countries.

The Hungarian position flipped again after Orban met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who announced his country's support for Finland. A few hours after, Budapest followed suit, citing Fidesz’s parliamentary group support for Helsinki’s bid even though there was no faction meeting convened for the day. Experts said Hungary did not want to lag behind Turkey in that respect at a time when the government has come under pressure from allies.

Opposition MPs said there was no valid real reason for not supporting ratification, adding that the government has caused great damage to the country’s remaining reputation.

MPs of the radical right-wing party Our Homeland, which opposes the country’s Nato membership, voted no for the ratification proposal.