Hungary’s Viktor Orbán plays spoilsport on NATO accession for Finland, Sweden – POLITICO
Hungary’s reputation as the troublemaker of Europe will be burnished on Wednesday as its parliament begins debating a contentious issue: whether to give Finland and Sweden the green light to join NATO.
Along with Turkey, Hungary has yet to ratify the applications of Finland and Sweden to join the transatlantic defense alliance more than eight months after NATO leaders signed off on their membership bid at a summit in Madrid.
While NATO members are more concerned about the potential of Turkey to stonewall accession for the Nordic countries — President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been blocking Sweden’s application, alleging that Stockholm is harboring Kurdish militants — the government of Viktor Orbán has also been dragging its heels on parliamentary approval for the process.
Hungary’s ratification process will finally begin on Wednesday, with a debate due to kick off in the parliament in Budapest ahead of a vote — expected in the second half of March.
But already, there are signs of trouble ahead.
Máté Kocsis, head of Orbán’s nationalist Fidesz party caucus in parliament, said last week that a “serious debate” had now emerged over the accession of the two countries. Hungary now plans to send a delegation to Sweden and Finland to examine “political disputes” that have arisen.
Orbán himself echoed such views. The Hungarian leader, who has an iron grip on his Fidesz party, said in an interview on Friday that “while we support Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO in principle, we first need to have some serious discussions.”
He pointed to Finland and Sweden’s previous criticism of Hungary’s record on rule-of-law issues, asserting that some in his party are questioning the wisdom of admitting countries that are “spreading blatant lies about Hungary, about the rule of law in Hungary, about democracy, about life here.”
“How, this argument runs, can anyone want to be our ally in a military system while they’re shamelessly spreading lies about Hungary?”
Orbán’s comments have confirmed fears in Brussels that the Hungarian leader could try to use his leverage over NATO enlargement to extract concessions on rule-of-law issues.
Finland and Sweden have been among the most critical voices around the EU table over rule-of-law concerns in Hungary, with Budapest still locked in a dispute with the European Union over the disbursal of funds due to Brussels’ protests over its democratic standards.
European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová said earlier this month that Hungary must sort out the independence of its judiciary “very soon” if it wants to receive €5.8 billion in grants due from the EU’s COVID-19 recovery fund.
Helsinki and Stockholm have kept largely silent on the looming vote in Budapest, reflecting in part a reluctance to stir up controversy ahead of time.
Sweden, in particular, has been treading a fine line with Turkey, seeking not to alienate Erdoğan even as allies now acknowledge the possibility of the two countries joining at different times — an apparent acceptance that Erdoğan could further hold up Sweden’s bid.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg visited Helsinki Monday, where Finland’s push to join the alliance topped the agenda. He urged both Turkey and Hungary to confirm the membership bids — and soon.
“I hope that they will ratify soon,” Stoltenberg said of the Hungarian parliament’s discussions. Asked if he was in contact with Hungary on the issue, he replied that it was a decision for sovereign national parliaments, adding: “The time has come. Finland meets all the criteria, as does Sweden. So we are working hard, and the aim is to have this in place as soon as possible.”
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