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13th Apr 2024

Sweden heading into Nato, after Orbán-Kristersson deal

  • Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson (l) with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán in Brussels on 1 February (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)
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Sweden could join Nato as early as next week after Hungary finally tabled a ratification vote for Monday (26 February) and the Swedish prime minister said he would travel to Budapest.

Kocsis Máté, a senior MP from prime minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party, broke the news on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

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Orbán has 135 out of 199 MPs and most opposition parties back the move, making a positive outcome in the vote a foregone conclusion after Fidesz gave the green light.

The move ends months of waiting by Hungary's 30 other Nato allies, all of whom already ratified Sweden's entry.

And based on Finland's Nato-accession timeline, Sweden could formally join Nato just a few days afterward, adding vast swathes of strategically important territory in the Baltic Sea and High North regions to the Western alliance — just a few weeks before Russia's presidential election on 15 March.

The Turkish parliament ratified Finland's accession on 31 March last year, completing the then 30 Nato member states' ratifications.

The Turkish foreign minister formally deposited Turkey's Finland-ratification documents at the Nato HQ in Brussels on 4 April.

The Finnish foreign minister deposited Finland's "legal instrument of accession" at the HQ the same day and Finland joined on the spot.

Orbán had previously held out on grounds that Sweden had insulted Hungary by speaking out against his abuse of rule of law.

He also told Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson to come to Budapest prior to ratification as a gesture of respect.

For his part, Kristersson initially told Orbán he would only come after ratification had been finalised.

But the Swedish leader caved on Tuesday, saying he would go to Budapest on Friday, in a meeting which he framed as planning for Hungary's EU presidency, which starts in July.

"The agenda for the meeting is security and defence policy cooperation between Hungary and Sweden, preparations for Hungary's EU presidency, and the EU's strategic agenda," Kristersson's office said.

Hungarian media also reported that Orbán and Kristersson made a deal on Swedish supply of Gripen fighter jets to Hungary.

The Swedish foreign ministry did not immediately answer on Tuesday, when asked about the arms deal.

Hungarian authorities never reply to EUobserver.

"Sweden has been eager to sell or lease Gripens for some time and if they can extend the Hungarian lease in return for Nato ratification, it seems like a win-win," said Paul Levin, an international-relations teacher at Stockholm University.

Orbán also came under US pressure to give way on Sweden, even though his party made a show of strength by refusing to meet US senators who visited Budapest this week.

And Kristersson's Budapest trip will help Orbán to save face as he backs down on Nato, despite Orbán's friendly ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, Orbán has also been wielding his veto on the EU stage, by delaying or blocking EU aid to Ukraine, EU sanctions on Russia, and EU sanctions on Israeli settlers.

He's become an EU pariah over his illiberal rule at home, which saw billions of euros in EU funding to Hungary withheld.

And for Iván László Nagy, a journalist at the HVG weekly in Hungary and an expert at the Visegrad Insight think-tank in Warsaw, another factor that swayed Orbán on Nato was his courtship of Italian prime minister and Atlanticist Giorgia Meloni, in his quest for more influence in Brussels.

Fidesz' 12 MEPs are currently not in any political group in the European Parliament, locking them out of decision-making and information-sharing.

But Orbán is aiming to join the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists group with Meloni's MEPs after the EU elections in June.

Orbán 2.0?

"Orbán is trying to make himself look less radical and more favourable to Meloni and to Europe," Nagy said on Tuesday.

"You could also see this in his state-of-the-nation speech last weekend, which was much less anti-European than before," he added.

Márton Gyöngyösi, an MEP from the right-wing opposition party Jobbik, said "Nato ratification will take place", now that Fidesz had blessed it, in what he called "Orbanistan".

"I guess that the scandal of the presidential pardon, pressure from the EU and Nato, as well as the subtle hints from the US [on potential anti-Hungary sanctions] had an impact," Gyöngyösi added.

The scandal saw the Hungarian president, Katalin Novák, who was from Fidesz, resign on 10 February after embarrassing Orbán's ultraconservative party by pardoning a convicted paedophile, with the Nato developments set to distract the Hungarian public from domestic protests.

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