Hungary’s ruling party boycotts parliament session on Sweden’s NATO bid

Hungary is the only NATO member yet to approve Sweden’s accession to the military alliance.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends a session of parliament in Budapest [File:Bernadett Szabo/Reuters]

Lawmakers from Hungary’s ruling party have boycotted an emergency parliament session in which a vote on Sweden’s bid to join NATO was on the agenda.

At Monday’s session, which was supported by six opposition parties, Fidesz lawmakers didn’t attend, scuttling the attempt to place a vote on the National Assembly’s schedule.

Turkey’s parliament voted to approve Sweden’s accession in January, making Hungary the last of the world’s largest military alliance’s 31 members not to do so.

Sweden had pursued a policy of military non-alignment since the Cold War. However, Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbour Ukraine in 2022 caused upheaval in geopolitical calculations, and Stockholm applied to become a NATO member that same year.

Hungary has maintained close ties with Russia since its invasion of Ukraine, and while it has said it supports the Swedish bid in principle, Budapest has been dragging its feet for months.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg last month that he would urge his Fidesz party to ratify the bid “at the first possible opportunity”.

On Friday, the United States embassy reminded Orban in a statement that he promised to act “at the first opportunity” and “Monday’s session provides him with one”.

Several ambassadors from NATO member countries attended Monday’s proceedings, including US Ambassador David Pressman.

In brief comments to the media after the session, Pressman said the US looks forward to “watching this closely and to Hungary acting expeditiously”.

“Sweden’s NATO accession is an issue that directly affects the United States’s national security and affects the security of our alliance as a whole,” he said, reminding Orban of his pledge.

Orban is delaying the vote due to his “personal vanity”, Agnes Vadai from the biggest opposition party told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

She accused the prime minister of seeking to “make headlines in the international press while making a gesture to Russian President Vladimir Putin by undermining the unity of NATO and the EU”.

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

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

Kristersson said he will make the trip but only after Hungary approves his country’s NATO membership.

Fidesz said in a statement on Monday that ratification of Sweden’s NATO accession can take place during a regular session of parliament, “but we are expecting the Swedish prime minister to visit Hungary first.”

“If this is an important issue for the Swedes, the Swedish prime minister will obviously come to Budapest,” the party said.

Hungary’s National Assembly is scheduled to reconvene on February 26, and ratification could take place quickly once it has received Orban’s approval.

Source: News Agencies