Hungary ignores Turkey's ratification of Sweden's Nato accession

Hungary ignores Turkey's ratification of Sweden's Nato accession
Viktor Orban at the Nato summit in Vilnius. / bne IntelliNews
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest October 25, 2023

The Turkish president's recent submission of a bill approving Sweden's Nato membership bid to parliament does not change the status of Hungary's ratification of the country's accession, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on October 24 in New York before the UN  Security Council meeting in New York.

Hungary’s parliament is the parliament of a sovereign country, so it will make a sovereign decision on this issue, he said.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has declared Budapest would not be the last Nato country to ratify Sweden's accession to the military alliance, but the pressure is building on Budapest after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed Sweden’s ratification protocol to Nato and submitted it to parliament. The delay in the ratification process has seriously tarnished Hungary’s already tainted international reputation, according to experts.

On Monday, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Erdogan’s endorsement but urged Turkey's parliament to quickly vote on an issue. Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom reckoned that this could take place before November 29-29, when the foreign ministers of Nato countries meet in Brussels.

Turkey had blocked Sweden's accession to the alliance, accusing the country of being too soft on Kurdish militants and other groups that pose security threats to the country.

The July summit in Vilnius had marked a shift as Erdogan signalled he would eventually support the country’s application on certain conditions.  According to press reports, there have been tough negotiations in recent weeks between Erdogan and US President Joe Biden to allow Turkey to quickly purchase American F16 planes due to increased tensions in the Middle East.

Sweden, together with Finland, applied for Nato membership shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the procedure suffered delays as Turkey and Hungary raised objections.

For long, the Hungarian government argued that parliament was busy with other issues, but it became clear that there were some real reasons behind the delay. Some analysts predicted that the Orban government was possibly blackmailing the European Commission to unfreeze billions in funds suspended over corruption and rule-of-law concerns, and Budapest could still torpedo raising the EU’s budget needed to provide more assistance to Ukraine.

At the moment, Swedish Nato membership is not on the agenda of Hungary’s parliament, which is scheduled for a three-day session this week. Per parliamentary rules, an initiative endorsed by four-fifths of MPs could potentially circumvent the House Committee to introduce the subject to the agenda.

The Hungarian government has put itself in a difficult position with inconsistent, incoherent communication regarding Sweden’s Nato application, according to former foreign minister Istvan Szentivanyi, who claims that Orban had nothing to gain from the procedure other than further damage to the country’s reputation.

Other analysts also share the view that while Turkey has had some real objections and used its bargaining power to clear the way for the sale of US F-16 planes, Hungary’s government had nothing to win from the obstruction.

Hungarian lawmakers ratified Finland's accession in March, nine months after the country applied for membership but only after the Turkish president announced his country's support. This confirmed that Budapest and Ankara were coordinating their actions, despite Hungarian government officials saying that the approval the country's sovereign decision.

Hungary’s defiance against Sweden’s membership had changed overnight after Erdogan’s endorsement at the Vilnius Nato meeting when Szijjarto changed tone and said the ratification process was only a "technical issue".

As Ankara again showed signs of hesitation and talks dragged on, the Hungarian side came up with new narratives. Last month, pro-government media dug up a ten-minute educational video produced by a Swedish public-service education broadcaster, which described Hungary as a country where democracy was eroding.

Fidesz faction leader Mate Kocsis stressed at the time that the ruling party can’t support Sweden’s Nato accession unless Stockholm gave an explanation about the "defamatory video", which gives examples of how Hungary’s self-proclaimed illiberal leader Viktor Orban dismantled checks and balances in his 12 years in power.

The producer of the video told the Financial Times that it was "gratifying to hear that Hungarian politicians are watching the video, but added that it is "deeply ignorant" to think that Swedish politicians have control over its content.

Citing government sources, Radio Free Europe in mid-September reported that the Hungarian parliament would not vote on the issue in the autumn session unless there was a "Canossa walk" by the foreign minister or the prime minister of Sweden to Budapest to show their submission.

The foreign ministry quickly refuted the report and earlier this month chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Zsolt Nemeth, one of the few Atlanticists in the Fidesz faction, told the online site that ratification will take place before Turkey gives the green light, adding that with Sweden, Nato will be stronger, and the future of the organisation is a key issue for Hungary.

There are growing concerns among Nato member states about Hungary’s commitment to the military alliance. According to local media, sensitive military secrets have long been withheld by allies because of Orban's Russian ties and over fears that Russian spies have penetrated the Hungarian administration.

US Ambassador to Hungary David Pressmen last week called a meeting of ambassadors of Nato member states and Sweden's ambassador to Budapest to discuss "Hungary's deepening relationship with Russia" a day after a meeting between Orban and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Beijing. Analysts agreed that this could be the last call to Budapest to change course and align with Western partners at a time of serious geopolitical tensions.




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