25th Sep 2023

Orbán sets ball rolling for Nato expansion vote in March

  • Viktor Orbán (c) 'just wanted to show that he can block things if he wants to, without even explaining why to his partners', opposition MP Ágnes Vadai said (Photo: Reuters)
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Hungarian prime prime minister Viktor Orbán has set the ball rolling for ratification of Finland and Sweden's Nato accession.

His ruling Fidesz party, on Tuesday (21 February), proposed a plenary debate on Nato in the Hungarian parliament next week.

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Political parties will meet in Budapest on Wednesday to finalise the spring agenda, with the debate due on 1 March and a vote expected in the week of 6 March or 20 March.

The Orbán breakthrough comes after months of unexplained delays, prompting speculation he was blackmailing the EU for frozen funds or carrying water for Turkish and Russian presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin, both of whom he's friendly with.

And it came with no public declaration on Tuesday either, said Ágnes Vadai, the shadow defence minister in Hungary's opposition Democratic Coalition party.

"Both in the EU and in Nato, he [Orbán] just wanted to show that he can block things if he wants to, without even explaining why to his partners," she added.

"I don't think it's a good sign of either strength or solidarity in today's international relations climate," Vadai said.

Finland and Sweden applied to join Nato last May due to Russia's war in Europe.

But Erdoğan has demanded Sweden first extradite 120 dissidents of mostly Kurdish origin, creating a snafu which could see Finland join alone to begin with.

Putin, meanwhile, continued to rant against Nato in a state of the nation speech on Tuesday.

The EU has frozen billions of euros due to Hungary because of Orbán's dismantling of rule of law at home.

His coalition with the conservative Christian Democratic People's Party has a whopping majority of 135 seats out of 199 in the parliament in Budapest.

This makes the final vote a foregone conclusion, unless Orbán made a drastic U-turn, even though he has personally promised Nordic and Nato leaders that he backs the move.

But the outcome is unlikely to be unanimous, given that a far-right party, Our Homeland Movement, with six MPs, hates Nato, Vadai, from the Democratic Coalition party, said.

It remains to be seen if Orbán's decision influences Erdoğan.

The Turkish leader currently has his hands full dealing with accusations he let corrupt property moguls build unsafe homes in an earthquake zone.

The row with Sweden on Nato could help him play strong man ahead of upcoming national elections, EU diplomats and Turkey experts previously reckoned.

But the elections, originally due in May, might now be postponed due to the earthquake, posing the question if Erdoğan will move on Nato before the Western alliance holds its next summit, in Vilnius in July.

Orbán had criticised Sweden for letting people hold anti-Erdoğan protests.

"[But] Hungary doesn't have bilateral issues of its own with Sweden that could justify holding up ratification," said Jamie Shea, a former senior Nato official who now teaches war studies at the University of Exeter in the UK.

"Orbán will not want problems with the EU and Nato at the same time. And he knows that Turkey will maintain its position on Sweden for some time to come whether Hungary ratifies or not. So Hungary does not hold the key to this issue," he added.

"Turkey is ready to allow Finland to join Nato [alone] and he [Erdoğan] considers that this is already a big gesture towards the alliance," Shea said.

Jamie Shea's quotes were added shortly after publication.


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