21st Sep 2023

Hungary all-but drops objection to Sweden's Nato bid

  • Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó with Romanian foreign minister Luminița Odobescu at the EU Council in Brussels in June (Photo:
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Hungary has all-but dropped its veto on Sweden's Nato entry, as Turkey also dials down rhetoric despite a Koran-burning scandal.

"If there's movement there [in Turkey's stance], then of course we'll keep the promise that Hungary won't delay any country in terms of [Nato] membership," Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó said via Facebook in Budapest on Tuesday (4 July).

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Szijjártó added that he was in close touch with Turkish foreign minister Hakan Fidan, amid friendly ties between the two governments.

Hungary has broken previous promises not to hold up Nato expansion, including personal handshakes between Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Nordic leaders.

It had also linked Sweden's Nato entry to unfreezing of EU funds being held back due to Orbán's illiberal politics.

But EU diplomats never saw this as a realistic quid pro quo.

And Szijjártó's Facebook words were still a positive signal ahead of Nato's annual summit, which is being held in Vilnius on 11 July, in the shadow of the Ukraine war.

Orbán did not table a ratification vote ahead of parliament's summer recess on 7 July.

But if Turkey was to do a U-turn, Orbán could call a snap vote with 48 hours' notice.

Turkey was the only other Nato ally barring Swedish accession.

And Swedish-Turkish relations took a nosedive last week when a Swedish protester burned a copy of the Koran outside Stockholm's main mosque on a Muslim holiday.

It caused an international scandal and prompted an apology by Sweden.

"The Swedish government fully understands that the Islamophobic acts committed by individuals at demonstrations in Sweden can be offensive to Muslims," its foreign ministry said on Sunday.

"Expressions of racism, xenophobia, and related intolerance have no place in Sweden or in Europe," it added, but it also said Sweden had: "a constitutionally protected right to freedom of assembly, expression, and demonstration".

"The fact that the desecration of the Koran took place under police protection in Sweden is a calamity," Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday.

He repeated accusations that Sweden had given asylum to "terrorists" from Kurdish and other groups, dampening hope of a Nato-summit breakthrough.

"We've made it clear that the determined fight against terrorist organisations and Islamophobia are our red line," Erdoğan said.

Three-way talks

But despite his harsh rhetoric, Turkish, Finnish, and Swedish officials are still to meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the Nato impasse, in last-chance talks before the Vilnius event.

Finland is taking part because Turkey created a three-way problem-solving group when Finland and Sweden launched their joint Nato bid last May.

Finland overcame Turkish objections and entered the Western alliance in April this year.

And if Erdoğan is known for his demagoguery, then his new foreign minister and former intelligence chief, Fidan, showed a more pragmatic face on Tuesday.

"We once again strongly condemn the vile attack on the Koran in Stockholm and the condonation of this attack despite our warnings," Fidan said in Ankara, while meeting the Jordanian foreign minister.

"This will neither be the first nor the last [such] incident," Fidan added.

But he focused on a more operational than ideological approach.

"On the fight against terrorism, there are a range of decisions and legal practices taken by Sweden last month. We will see how these are applied in practice," he said, ahead of Thursday's talks with Sweden and Finland.

"It is not possible for us to paint a positive picture [of Sweden] in an atmosphere where [Kurdish] terrorist organisations are hosted, where these groups easily organise all kinds of acts, demonstrations and protests, where they can gather money, where there is human trafficking with conflict zones and where people entering the country [Sweden] under the guise of refugees are not investigated," Fidan said.

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