Hungary could ratify Sweden’s NATO membership in February: PM Orban

Budapest is the only NATO member yet to ratify Stockholm’s membership to the world’s largest military alliance.

Hungary's Prime Minister and Chairman of the governing Fidesz party Viktor Orban delivers his annual state of the nation speech in front of his party members in Budapest [Szilard Koszticsak/AFP]

The Hungarian parliament can ratify Sweden’s NATO membership when it convenes for its new session later this month, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has told his supporters.

“It’s good news that our dispute with Sweden will soon be settled,” Orban said in his state-of-the-nation address on Saturday in Budapest.

“We are going in the direction that at the start of parliament’s spring session we can ratify Sweden’s accession to NATO.”

Orban highlighted that he and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson had taken steps “to rebuild trust” between the two countries. But he did not say what those steps were.

Sweden applied to join NATO in May 2022 in a historic shift in policy prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Hungary is the only NATO country not yet to have ratified Sweden’s application, a process that requires the backing of all NATO members.

Turkey was the only other NATO holdout, but the Turkish parliament voted to approve Swedish membership last month.

Earlier this month, lawmakers from Hungary’s governing Fidesz party boycotted an emergency parliament session in which a vote on Sweden’s bid to join NATO was on the agenda.

Fidesz cited what it called unfounded Swedish allegations that it has eroded democracy in Hungary as the reason why Sweden’s NATO bid had been held up.

Hungarian officials have also indicated that Fidesz lawmakers won’t support holding a vote on Sweden’s NATO bid until Kristersson accepts an invitation by Orban to visit Budapest to negotiate the matter.

On Wednesday, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said his country hoped that Hungary would soon ratify its accession to NATO, removing the last obstacle to its membership.

Billstrom reiterated there would be no negotiations on the ratification despite Orban inviting Kristersson to “negotiate” Sweden’s accession.

“There is nothing to negotiate, if there is a visit, it’s not going to be a negotiation, that has been made very clear by my prime minister,” the Swedish foreign minister said earlier this week.

The delay in ratifying Sweden’s NATO application has also soured Budapest’s relations with the United States and raised concerns among its allies.

US Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also raised the prospect of imposing sanctions on Hungary for its conduct and called Orban “the least reliable member of NATO”.

Orban, who has better ties with Russia than other EU states and most NATO members, has repeatedly said his government backs Sweden joining the alliance, but the legislation has been stranded in the Hungarian parliament since mid-2022.

The Hungarian Parliament is scheduled to reconvene on February 26.

Source: News Agencies