Hungary’s parliament finally sets date to ratify Sweden’s Nato membership

Hungary’s parliament finally sets date to ratify Sweden’s Nato membership
Lawmakers are set to ratify Sweden's Nato membership at the opening session of parliament on February 26. / bne IntelliNews
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest February 21, 2024

Hungary is finally ready to ratify Sweden's Nato accession after the head of the parliamentary group of the governing Fidesz said the issue is on the agenda at the opening session of parliament on February 26.

Mate Kocsis posted on Facebook after reports that Swedish Prime Minister Kristersson is scheduled to visit Budapest on February 23.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban had pledged on numerous occasions that he would not be the last Nato member country to ratify Sweden's bid to join the military alliance and it had been coordinating its position behind the scenes with Turkey, as was the case during Finland’s accession. However, despite this, Turkey's strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan caught Orban off guard and ratified Swedish accession last month.

In recent weeks, Orban attempted to shrug off calls to speed up the ratification, saying MPs of the ruling Fidesz party had reservations because of "blatant lies" from some Swedish politicians about the state of Hungary's democracy. 

Hungary’s defiance over the issue has raised concern among allies and led to further souring of relations with the United States. Government officials declined to meet a bipartisan US delegation visiting Hungary this weekend. Some analysts did not rule out that Washington was piling pressure on Budapest with the possibility of imposing sanctions targeting officials and businessmen aligned with the ruling party.

The delay in the ratification process only serves Russian interests and undermines the security of the alliance, many pundits observed.

A recent poll showed that only 15% of Hungarians agreed with the delay in the admission process, and 29% agreed with the government narrative, with 33% of Fidesz voters saying it was beneficial for Hungary to block Sweden's accession.

In his annual state of the nation speech,  Orban said he and his Swedish counterpart had taken steps "to rebuild trust" between their two countries and that parliament would move forward with the vote when lawmakers convene.

After talks in Warsaw on Monday, Kristersson said there was "a strong will" on Hungary's part to finalise Sweden's accession, which will be on the agenda during his talks in Budapest.

According to the government-leaning online news site, "intense negotiations" have been ongoing between the two parties in recent weeks. The negotiations are said to include a large-scale defence industry package, which may include the purchase of new Swedish Gripen planes or the extension of the current leasing scheme.

"We are discussing how we can develop our cooperation,"  Ulf Kristersson told state broadcaster SVT. Swedish media wrote that the issue of the sale of new Gripen planes to Hungary is not on the agenda.

One year after Hungary joined Nato in 2001, the first Orban government signed a 10-year lease agreement with Sweden for 14 Gripen C/D jets. The decision surprised many as Budapest picked the European manufacturer over the US-made F-16 aircraft, as Sweden offered lower upfront costs and quicker delivery. Hungary extended the lease contract with Sweden in 2021 for another five years.​