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30th Jan 2023

Sweden expects Hungary to soon ratify its Nato membership

  • Swedish EU presidency decorations at EU Council building in Brussels (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)
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Sweden is demanding Hungary ratify its Nato accession, following fears Budapest may try to leverage concessions on the rule of law and frozen EU funds in exchange.

Tobias Billström, Sweden's minister of foreign affairs, told reporters in Stockholm on Wednesday (11 January) that they expect Budapest to start ratification in February.

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"We will see such a commencement start in the beginning of February. That is the knowledge we have so far," he said.

Hungary and Turkey are the only two Nato members, out of 30, that have yet to OK Sweden and Finland for Nato membership.

Turkey wants Sweden to first extradite dozens of its political enemies who sought asylum there in an increasingly ugly row.

Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orbán, last November, announced Hungary's parliament would ratify Nato membership for Finland and Sweden early this year, possibly in March.

Orbán's foreign minister Péter Szijjártó made similar comments.

But with Sweden making rule of law one of its top priorities during its six-month rotating EU presidency, fears are mounting Budapest may renege or continue to drag out the process.

Ágnes Vadai, the shadow defence minister in the opposition Democratic Coalition party in Budapest, told EUobserver that "the proof [of a Nato-EU funds link] is that there's simply no other reason not to ratify."

"We even work with Sweden and Finland in a special Nato programme [called C17] and we've bought Swedish fighter jets, so we know them very well," she said, also on Wednesday.

"Orbán has always said it [the rule-of-law dispute] has nothing to do with it [Nato]. But you should take that with a pinch of salt, because he's a liar", she said.

"It used to be said: 'Maybe Orbán is delaying ratification to support [Turkish president Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan'. But this doesn't hold water — the Turkish-Swedish dispute is in a league of its own. Erdoğan doesn't need Orbán for this, so it's either [about] EU money, or even worse, the Russians", she added, referring to Orbán's friendly ties with Erdoğan and with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who opposes Nato expansion.

Budapest has in the past already used its veto threat on EU-level decision making amid proposals to suspend some €7.5bn in EU payouts due to suspected corruption in Orbán's government.

Budapest was blocking both an €18bn EU aid package for Ukraine and a minimum global corporate tax rate last December.

But an agreement was then made to lower the suspended payout to €6.3bn, in what Orbán spun as a win.

Other EU governments have also approved the country's €5.8bn post-Covid pandemic recovery plan.

However, the money won't be released until Hungary completes 27 anti-corruption and judicial independence reforms.

The situation arose just ahead of Sweden's EU presidency, which has made rule of law one of its four top priorities over the next six months.

Sweden's EU affairs minister Jessika Roswall said the presidency will maintain pressure "as long as there is a systematic threat to the rule of law in member states."

She also welcomed last year's agreement on the conditionality mechanism, which links EU funds to the functioning of rule of law in a member state.

The EU has sanctioned Orbán for curbing the independence of the judiciary and widespread misuse of EU funds.

But when pressed on Hungary, Nato ratification, and rule of law, Roswall refused to draw a link.

"I see it as a parallel process. One of the priorities of the Swedish presidency is the rule of law. It's very crucial for Sweden. I don't see that that will affect the Nato process," she said.

The Swedish presidency plans to discuss the Hungarian and Polish rule-of-law cases in so-called General Affairs Councils in March and April.

The Swedish EU presidency paid for travel from Brussels to Stockholm and Kiruna, as well as accommodation and food.

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