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Sunday, April 14 2024

Sweden Joins NATO as Hungary’s Parliament Ratifies Bid

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On Monday, the Hungarian parliament approved Sweden’s application to join NATO, removing the last barrier to the military alliance’s expansion, which was prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
With the vote, over a year of delays coming to an end, fellow NATO allies became enraged as Ukraine fought Russian forces.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said it was a “historic day”.

Russia’s invasion in February 2022 forced Sweden and Finland, a neighbor, to renounce their long-standing non-alignment stance and apply to join the bloc.

However, Sweden’s bid was delayed, despite Finland joining the US-led defense alliance as its 31st member in April of last year. It was ratified by Turkey just last month.

Hungary eventually joined on Monday, with 188 lawmakers voting in favor and six against Sweden’s entry.

“Today is a historic day… Sweden stands ready to shoulder its responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security,” Kristersson said in a statement to X.

Earlier Monday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor had asked fellow lawmakers to approve Sweden’s bid.

“The Swedish-Hungarian military cooperation and Sweden’s accession to NATO will strengthen Hungary’s security,” Orban told parliament.

Ahead of the vote, Orban’s nationalist Fidesz party — whose ruling coalition with the Christian Democratic KDNP holds a two-thirds majority in parliament — had indicated it would support Sweden’s bid.

All opposition parties except the far-right Our Homeland movement were in favour of ratification.

– NATO’s 32nd member –

Though repeatedly saying it supported Swedish membership in principle, Hungary kept prolonging the process by asking Stockholm to stop “vilifying” the Hungarian government.

Budapest said that Swedish officials were “keen to bash Hungary” over matters pertaining to the rule of law.

Following their meeting in Budapest on Friday, Orban, the nationalist leader of Hungary, declared that Kristersson and he had explained “our mutual good intentions”.

Hungary also inked an agreement to add four Swedish-built fighter jets to its current 14-strong fleet of Jas-39 Gripen fighters.

The president is anticipated to sign the Nordic nation’s bid in the next few days after the parliament gave it approval.

Sweden will then be invited to accede to the Washington Treaty and officially become NATO’s 32d member.

In the case of Finland, Turkey was the last to give the green light on March 30, 2023, and Finland became a NATO member on April 4.

– ‘Confrontational behaviour’ –

The majority of NATO members were eager to accept Finland and Sweden’s membership bids as soon as possible following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ankara cited security concerns for Sweden before proceeding with the ratification.

Some analysts saw Hungary’s delay as a ploy to pressure Brussels into making concessions in exchange for the release of billions of euros in embezzled funds.

Others contended that it highlighted Orban’s close relationship with the Turkish and Russian presidents.

Orban, according to Ca’ Foscari University analyst Mate Szalai in Venice, was just pandering to his home crowd.

“Orban wanted to go as far as he could without causing serious problems to the Transatlantic community while proving that Hungary is a power to be reckoned with,” he told AFP.

While Hungary’s “confrontational behaviour” did not reap any tangible results, it might have “been beneficial domestically for the ruling Fidesz party”, he added.

“Many initiatives of the Hungarian government are designed to provoke a backlash in Europe,” said Szalai.

“And most criticism expressed towards the Orban government (from outside Hungary) actually helps Fidesz to maintain its popularity in the country.”

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