Hungary approves Sweden’s NATO membership bid

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that a fighter jet deal helped secure Budapest’s approvalHungary approves Sweden’s NATO membership bid

Hungary approves Sweden’s NATO membership bid

Representatives of the Hungarian Parliament vote on the ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership in Budapest, Hungary, February 26, 2024 ©  AFP / Attila Kisbenedek

The Hungarian parliament has voted overwhelmingly to allow Sweden to join NATO, nearly two years after Stockholm applied for membership in the US-led military bloc. The vote brings to a close the latest round of NATO expansion, with Sweden the pact’s 32nd member.

The vote took place on Monday, after Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson traveled to Budapest on Friday to meet with his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban. Speaking at a joint press conference, the two leaders said that they had put aside their differences, with Orban stating that membership in NATO meant Hungarians and Swedes were “prepared to die for each other.”

Some 188 lawmakers voted in favor of ratification, while six voted against.

Sweden and Finland both applied to join NATO in 2022, citing the perceived threat posed by Russia. While most of the bloc’s members quickly ratified both applications, Hungary and Türkiye held out, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanding that the Nordic states first extradite alleged Kurdish and Gulenist terrorists, and Orban accusing Stockholm and Helsinki of “spreading blatant lies about Hungary.”

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Sweden and Finland had both been fiercely critical of Hungary’s conservative government, with both supporting the EU’s withholding of funds from Budapest over Orban’s supposed stifling of LGBT and migrant rights, as well as judicial independence concerns. Hungary approved Finland’s application last year, but Orban’s Fidesz party refused to hold a vote on Sweden’s bid until Kristersson came to Budapest to speak with the Hungarian leader.

During Friday’s talks, Kristersson agreed that Sweden would sell Hungary four Saab Gripen fighter planes, to add to the Hungarian military’s fleet of 14. Orban told reporters that the sale helped “rebuild confidence” between the two countries.

In applying to join NATO, Sweden renounced its two-century policy of neutrality. Russia has repeatedly condemned NATO’s post-Cold War eastward expansion, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accusing the US last month of “dragging neutral countries” into the bloc for the purpose of confronting Russia.

After Finland joined the alliance last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the creation of a new military district bordering the Nordic nation. “There was no trouble” before Finland joined the bloc, he said in December, adding: “now there will be.”


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