Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been stalling ratification of Sweden and Finland's applications to join Nato, has now demanded that the two Nordic countries stop criticising his regime if they expect to join the defence alliance soon.
If Sweden and Finland expect Hungary to be fair and agree to their Nato accession, then those countries must also be fair and stop spreading false information about Hungary, Orban told public radio on February 24, confirming that a parliamentary delegation would be sent to the two countries to resolve political disputes.
However, Hungary’s illiberal leader did not elaborate on whether he was requiring any specific moves before the Hungarian parliament completes its debates on the ratifications, which is expected to begin this week.
Hungary is the only Nato member country besides Turkey that has not yet approved Sweden and Finland's bids to join the Western military alliance. The two countries applied for membership in May in response to the war. A unanimous vote of all 30 Nato members is needed to admit new countries.
The Hungarian legislature has not put the matter on the agenda for seven months, citing a number of spurious reasons, including parliament having to pass urgent legislative proposals necessary to obtain the EU recovery funds.
Orban’s comments came a day after a caucus meeting of the Fidesz faction in preparation for the spring session, where lawmakers discussed the issue.
"A serious debate developed, with several lawmakers making a point that politicians of Sweden and Finland had crudely and baselessly offended Hungary ... over the past few years, and they are now asking a favour," Fidesz faction leader Mate Kocsis said after the meeting.
Kocsis said the move would fall into the course of normal parliamentary proceedings and it would not entail an extension of these. No postponement of the decision by parliament is expected, he added. The issue will be on the agenda of the first week in the spring session of Parliament, set to start on February 27.
Orban noted that the government has asked parliament to support the two countries' applications for Nato membership. He added, however, that "some deputies of the ruling parties are not overly enthusiastic", because, among other things, "these states spread obvious lies about our democracy and the rule of law here".
Orban said Ankara was concerned about "Sweden harbouring terrorist organisations" opposed to Turkey, which was "also an ally whom we must listen to".
At a Saturday press briefing Gergely Gulyas, head of the Prime Minister's Office, said the new members would further strengthen the defence alliance, but also acknowledged increased risks, especially with regard to Finland's geographical location.
If Hungary commits to defend both countries, as Nato members, it expects them to explain why they have "slandered" the country in recent years, he added. Gulyas said he will vote to ratify the accession of Finland and Sweden to Nato, but also said "more respect" for Hungary is expected of both countries.