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Hungary has joined Turkey in adding more hurdles to Sweden’s Nato bid, with Budapest expected to extract further concessions from its western allies before ratifying the expansion of the military alliance.
Pro-government media in Hungary last week unearthed a 2019 Swedish educational video that described Hungary as a country where democracy was eroding. On Sunday, parliament speaker László Kövér, a close ally of prime minister Viktor Orbán, said that Hungary and Sweden did not see eye to eye on issues of patriotism and therefore did not belong in the same alliance.
“Nato is a defence alliance, and we do guarantee collective defence,” Kövér told a pro-Orbán TV show. “But I don’t think we need an ally that . . . spits on us.”
Foreign minister Peter Szijjártó has also used the video as a pretext to remind Stockholm not to take Budapest’s vote for granted, writing to his Swedish counterpart last week not to be “surprised” by the Hungarian parliament’s reaction.
Orbán had agreed to ratify Sweden’s bid, after Turkey lifted its objections in July. But in recent weeks, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has signalled reluctance to take that step as a result of a series of Koran burnings in the Scandinavian country, including in front of the Turkish embassy.
The Hungarian government has admitted co-ordinating positions with Ankara on the issue. In the past, Orbán has used his veto on Nato enlargement and other issues within the EU to extract concessions from his western allies.
The Turkish-Hungarian veto meant that Sweden was decoupled from Finland after they jointly applied for Nato membership in May 2022, following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Finland joined the alliance in April this year.
The Hungarian warning has been met with astonishment in Sweden and has added to the sense of a Nato application that is still far from certain.
Kalle Sandhammar, head of Sweden’s small public broadcaster UR that published the educational video said that it was “in itself gratifying to hear that Hungarian politicians are watching UR”. But he added: “It is deeply ignorant to think that Swedish politicians have control over UR’s content.”
Sweden’s foreign ministry declined to comment. Nordic diplomats have long believed that Hungary does not want to be last to confirm Sweden’s membership so that a stepping up of Budapest’s opposition can signal that Turkey is not close to approving it.
Budapest’s prolonged resistance to ratify the expansion has caused irritation in Washington: US ambassador to Budapest David Pressman listed the issue as one of the more pressing matters in bilateral relations.
“The prime minister himself has stated that he supports Sweden’s membership in the alliance,” he said on Friday. “We look forward to expeditious action by the Hungarian government and its parliament.”
“Every single fighter jet flown by the Hungarian Defense Forces is a Swedish jet. Every single one,” Pressman said. “Hungary knows intimately the enormous benefits that Sweden’s accession to the Alliance would bring.”