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Mar 27, 2023
Hungary Ratifies Finland’s NATO Bid, Leaving Sweden in the Cold
(Bloomberg) -- Hungary backed Finland’s accession to NATO, ending months of foot-dragging by Prime Minister Viktor Orban and leaving the Nordic country a step away from joining the defense alliance.
Lawmakers in Budapest voted overwhelmingly on Monday to support Finland’s membership, which would expand NATO toward Russia’s Nordic borders after President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Hungary’s move follows Turkey’s decision to support the Finnish bid, though Turkey has yet to ratify that.
While it backed Finland, Hungary kept Sweden’s application on ice in a dispute that Orban’s party has linked to a clash inside the European Union over the rule of law.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin welcomed the ratification of her nation’s bid, adding on Twitter it was “in everyone’s interest that Sweden will also become a NATO member before the Vilnius summit.”
Hungary had brushed off pressure from allies to fast-track the bids of both Finland and Sweden, which most members completed ahead of a NATO summit in July. The parliament in Budapest, dominated by Orban’s ruling party, has yet to schedule a vote on Sweden’s bid.
“All signs and our hope point to a relationship based on mutual respect” with Finland, whereas Hungary hasn’t received such assurances from Sweden, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Tamas Menczer told lawmakers.
He and his colleagues rejected opposition allegations that Hungary’s delaying tactic served Russia’s interests.
Finland’s membership will enable the alliance to start further securing the area around the Baltic Sea in defense of NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are seen as potential targets of Russian aggression.
Despite its relatively small 5.5 million population, Finland has a reserve of 900,000 troops thanks to a conscription-based system that wasn’t dismantled after the Cold War. It’s able to deploy about a third of them in war time — more than many much larger European nations.
Hungary had previously signaled that it would approve both Nordic members’ accession bids when a delegation of lawmakers from Orban’s ruling Fidesz party visited Helsinki and Stockholm earlier this month.
But a key Orban aide announced last week that criticism of Hungary’s decline in democratic standards would delay a decision on Sweden. Hungary has been struggling to unlock more than $30 billion in EU funds that Brussels has suspended on graft and rule-of-law concerns.
Orban has also taken a cue from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who maintains his opposition to Sweden’s accession, accusing it of not doing enough to crack down on groups that Turkey labels as terrorist. Turkey has said it will ratify Finland’s bid before its parliament goes on recess ahead of May 14 elections.
Hungary did not make it clear why it hadn’t also opened the way for Sweden.
“I don’t see any reason for delay, but we are aware that every country makes its own decisions,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said after meeting Orban last week.
(Adds reaction from Finland from second paragraph.)
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