NATO–Russia relations

Hungary approves Sweden joining Nato after months of delays

Author: Editors Desk Source: The Guardian
February 26, 2024 at 11:17
The Swedish prime minister, Ulf Kristersson (left), with the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, in Budapest last week. Photograph: János Kummer/Getty Images
The Swedish prime minister, Ulf Kristersson (left), with the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, in Budapest last week. Photograph: János Kummer/Getty Images

Hungary approves Sweden joining Nato after months of delays Yes vote comes nearly two years after historically neutral country applied to join military alliance

Hungary’s parliament has approved Sweden’s Nato membership nearly two years after the historically neutral country applied to join the western military alliance, bringing to an end months of limbo and diplomatic wrangling.

The vote, which took place in Budapest on Monday, followed Friday’s meeting between the Swedish prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, and his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orbán, in which they agreed to put aside their differences – saying they were “prepared to die for each other”.

The two countries signed a new military agreement during a warm yet tightly stage-managed joint press conference in the Hungarian capital, in which Sweden promised to sell four new Gripen planes to add to the 14 Hungary has previously bought.

Turkey gave its approval to the Nordic country’s Nato ratification last month, leaving Hungary the last remaining country to do so – despite assurances from Orbán that it would not be the final Nato member to sign.

The turnaround came after the ruling Fidesz parliamentary group leader suggested last week that the issue be raised in Hungary’s parliament on Monday when it reopened after its winter break.

Sweden applied to join Nato in May 2022, at the same time as Finland, in a historic shift in its security policy prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that February. The delays have led to frustration among members of the alliance with Orbán, a rightwing nationalist who has forged close ties with Russia.

Now that the parliament has approved the move, the decision will be sent to Hungary’s interim president, László Kövér, who will have five days to signoff on it and send it to the US state department in Washington.

According to Nato protocol, the US government must be notified of member states’ ratification of a new country. The secretary general then invites the new country to accede to the treaty, which is then sent to the US state department, which formally invites them to become a Nato member.

After Kristersson’s visit to Budapest, Orbán hailed “a new phase of cooperation between Hungary and Sweden”.

Asked by journalists what had made his country drop its opposition to Sweden joining Nato, Orbán said: “Being members of Nato means that we are prepared to die for each other. It is based on mutual respect. Taking that process at an appropriate pace has been wise.”

It marked a landmark moment for moderate Kristersson’s centre-right coalition government, backed by the far-right Sweden Democrats, which has been grappling with the Nato issue ever since taking over from the social democrat Magdalena Andersson’s government in 2022.

Kristersson said on Friday: “We respect each other’s differences and sometimes reach good compromises. Now we are also entering into joint Nato cooperation with precisely the attitude of being prepared to fight for each other in a dangerous time.”

 
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