Hungary’s parliament ratifies Swedish bid to become 32nd member of NATO

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, right, and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, left, shake hands after a press conference in Budapest on Friday, a prelude to Hungary’s approval of the Nordic country’s NATO bid. (Janos Kummer/Getty Images)

President Viktor Orban expected to sign off after striking defence pact with Swedish PM last week

Hungary’s parliament voted Monday to ratify Sweden’s bid to join NATO, bringing an end to more than 18 months of delays that have frustrated the alliance as it seeks to expand in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The vote, which passed with 188 votes for and six against, was the culmination of months of wrangling by Hungary’s allies to convince its nationalist government to lift its block on Sweden’s membership.

A presidential signature is needed to formally endorse the approval of Sweden’s NATO bid, which is expected within the next few days.

The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban submitted the protocols for approving Sweden’s entry into NATO in July 2022, but the matter had stalled in Hungary’s parliament over opposition by governing party lawmakers.

Unanimous support among all NATO members is required to admit new countries, and Hungary is the last of the alliance’s 31 members to give its backing since Turkey ratified the request last month.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson called it “a historic day.”

“We stand ready to shoulder our share of the responsibility for NATO’s security,” Kristersson wrote in a post on X.

Orban, a right-wing populist who has forged close ties with Russia, has said that criticism of Hungary’s democracy by Swedish politicians had soured relations between the two countries and led to reluctance among lawmakers in his Fidesz party.

The vote on Monday removed the final membership hurdle for Sweden, which, along with neighbouring Finland, first applied to join the alliance in May 2022. Finland officially became a NATO member in April 2023.

Orban irked by external pressure

Addressing lawmakers before the vote, Orban said: “Sweden and Hungary’s military co-operation and Sweden’s NATO accession strengthen Hungary’s security.”

Orban criticized Hungary’s European Union and NATO allies for placing increased pressure on his government in recent months to move forward on bringing Sweden into the alliance.

“Several people tried to intervene from the outside in the settling of our disputes, but this did not help but rather hampered the issue,” Orban said. “Hungary is a sovereign country, it does not tolerate being dictated by others, whether it be the content of its decisions or their timing.”

Last weekend, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators visited Hungary and announced it would submit a joint resolution to Congress condemning Hungary’s alleged democratic backsliding and urging Orban’s government to immediately lift its block on Sweden’s trans-Atlantic integration.

But on Friday, Kristersson met with Orban in Hungary’s capital where they appeared to reach a decisive reconciliation after months of diplomatic tensions.

Reaction from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:

Following their meeting, the leaders announced the conclusion of a defence industry agreement that will include Hungary’s purchase of four Swedish-made JAS 39 Gripen jets and the extension of a service contract for its existing Gripen fleet.

Orban said the additional fighter jets “will significantly increase our military capabilities and further strengthen our role abroad” and will improve Hungary’s ability to participate in joint NATO operations.

“To be a member of NATO together with another country means we are ready to die for each other,” Orban said. “A deal on defence and military capacities helps to reconstruct the trust between the two countries.”

On Monday, ambassadors from several NATO countries were in the parliamentary chamber during the vote. The U.S. ambassador to Hungary, David Pressman, told reporters Sweden’s approval was “a decision of strategic significance to the United States of America, to Hungary and to the trans-Atlantic alliance as a whole.”

“This has been a decision that has taken some time, and we look forward to the process concluding rapidly,” Pressman said.

Monday’s vote on Sweden’s NATO accession was just one matter on a busy agenda for lawmakers in the Hungarian parliament.

A vote was also held on accepting the resignation of President Katalin Novák, who stepped down earlier this month in a scandal over her decision to pardon to a man convicted of covering up a string of child sexual abuses.

After accepting Novák’s resignation, lawmakers are expected to confirm Tamás Sulyok, the president of Hungary’s Constitutional Court, as the country’s new president. He is set to formally take office on March 5.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Yukon’s new Arctic security council to help prepare territory for a changing world, CBC News

Denmark: Danish policy prioritizes low-conflict Arctic amidst Russian tensions, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: NATO membership strengthens Arctic Security, deepens Canada ties: Finnish Ambassador, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Norwegian F-35s in Iceland for airspace surveillance, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norwegian intelligence warns about mounting Russian threats, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: New commander of Russia’s ‘Kirkenes Brigade’ says his marines are fighting NATO, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Intelligence reports-Russian intelligence operations a major threat to Sweden, Radio Sweden

United StatesArctic Security-University of Alaska Anchorage to lead center of excellence, Eye on the Arctic

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