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Budapest tests NATO’s patience in holding up Sweden’s accession bid

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Hungary has thrown a spanner in the works of swift parliamentary ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership, just one day after Ankara sent a glimmer of hope by moving a step closer to green-lighting the membership.

Turkey’s move to start the national ratification process of Sweden’s NATO membership “doesn’t affect Hungary’s stance on the issue”, Zoltan Kovacs, the international spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Cabinet said in an X post on Tuesday (24 October).

The Turkish-Hungarian veto decoupled the joint bid of Finland and Sweden to join NATO following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Finland joined the alliance in April 2023.

Sweden awaits Hungary’s parliamentary rubber stamp on its accession bill, which is the last mandatory step of the national ratification process to be allowed to join the Western military alliance.

Hungary’s government accused Stockholm of meddling and criticising democracy and the rule of law in the country, in an X post in September, and used this claim to justify the members of parliament’s delay in passing the bill.

Sweden’s prime minister Ulf Kristersson was optimistic earlier on Tuesday, saying he “[has] received assurances from the Hungarian Prime Minister a couple of times before that they will not delay Sweden, and I think Hungary stands by that”. However, he refused to give a timeline for membership.

NATO did not take any steps to mediate the issue and diplomats repeatedly dismissed the issue of the Hungarians hindering the ratification process.

They instead piled pressure on Ankara, who had postponed the ratification moves over claims Stockholm did not tackle terrorism strongly enough and acted as a haven for Kurdish activists Ankara regards as terrorists.

Hungary’s and Turkey’s ratification processes are now aligned, but it remains unclear when the parliaments will vote on the matter and put their final rubber stamp on the accession bill.

“The Hungarian parliament is the sovereign parliament of a sovereign country, so it will make a sovereign decision on this issue,” Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó said, according to Kovacs.

Turkey used the same argument in July to justify that the bill could take a long time to pass through parliament.

Sweden’s Kristersson stayed cautious, refusing to give an estimated timeline for its country’s full-fledged membership in the Western military alliance.

“I don’t set any dates,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday, before adding he had “always been convinced that [Sweden] would get to where we are now and that it would lead to final ratification by both parliaments [of Turkey and Hungary]”.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also said, speaking to reporters next to Kristersson, that he “[had] received exactly the same signals as Ulf [Kristersson], namely that Hungary will not delay the process, that Hungary will not be the last country to ratify.”

“And since there are two countries that have not ratified, it goes without saying that this should also happen quickly in Hungary,” he added.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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