On Monday 5 February, the parliament of Hungary called a special session to deliberate Sweden’s accession into the Nato alliance. However, the ruling Fidesz party boycotted the accession vote, with their majority ensuring the vote will not pass. This comes despite significant pressure on Hungary to pass the resolution, with the US Ambassador to Hungary and senior Nato representatives all present in the Hungarian Parliament to witness the result. Nato accession rules require unanimous approval by all existing alliance members for a new state to join. Hungary is the last remaining Nato member to approve of Sweden’s application, clearing the way for Sweden’s official acceptance.
Sweden has historically maintained neutrality and has not fought in an official war since the Napoleonic era. During the Cold War, the country maintained notable self-sufficiency and autonomy in its defence industry, which is notable given that the Far North was an area of intense competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, after this era, military spending was reduced to readjust to new strategic realities. Sweden’s entry into the EU in 1995 ended de facto neutrality. Sweden additionally participated in Nato missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya. Although the Swedish population historically opposed Nato membership, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 prompted renewed security concerns, and in May 2022, Sweden officially applied to join the alliance.
Hungary is currently considered to be the EU and Nato state with the friendliest relations with Russia. Hungarian Prime Minister and Fidesz party leader Viktor Orbán’s public position is that because Hungary is a small nation in Central Europe, it must pursue potential friendly relations and potential business partners in both the East and West. Additionally, Orbán is considered to have a close personal relationship to Vladimir Putin. Regardless of the reason, Hungary has repeatedly stalled on approving Sweden’s Nato application. Fidesz representatives have cited retaliation for the EU freezing developmental funds for Hungary in 2023, which was in in response to concerns over infringement on rule-of-law and high corruption levels in Hungary. Since Orbán came to office in 2010, there have been increasing concerns over these issues, as well as the harassment of journalists and democratic backsliding. Hungary has also criticized the way the Swedish educational system teaches Hungary as an example of these issues, and that an adjustment must be made for Sweden to join the alliance.
In January 2024, Turkey ratified Sweden’s Nato application. Turkish President Erdogan had also delayed the process citing opposition to Sweden hosting Kurdish political movements that Turkey designates as terrorist entities and the 2023 Swedish Quran burning. After heavy pressure from other Nato members, especially the United States, Turkey relented at the start of the year. Now that Hungary is the sole remaining hurdle to Sweden’s accession, pressure has been mounting for Budapest to act. The opposition parties called for a special session at the start of February to address Sweden’s application but without the support of Fidesz, which has a supermajority, no progress can be made.
However, it is likely the resolution welcoming Swedish accession will be passed in the standard parliamentary session in late February. This would enable the government, rather than the opposition, to claim responsibility for Sweden’s accession to Nato. Hungary has requested that the Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson visit Budapest before the vote, similar to a request made by Turkey in 2023 for President Erdogan and PM Kristersson to meet directly. This indicates that Hungary and Orbán understand the strategic need and inevitability of Sweden’s Nato membership, and may be looking for a way to save face given their delays over the last two years.
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