Hungary’s Orban backs Sweden’s NATO bid, potentially removing last hurdle to accession

By Christian Edwards, Catherine Nicholls and James Frater, CNN

CNN  —  Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that his government supports Sweden’s membership bid, potentially removing the final hurdle to accession after months of fraught negotiations.

“I reaffirmed that the Hungarian government supports the NATO membership of Sweden,” Orban wrote Wednesday on X.

Orban said he told Stoltenberg in a phone call he would urge Hungary’s National Assembly to vote in favor of Sweden’s bid to join the bloc at the first possible opportunity. The NATO chief said he welcomed Orban’s “clear support” for Sweden’s bid.

Hungary was until this week one of two countries that objected to and obstructed Sweden’s accession to NATO. The Turkish parliament voted Tuesday to approve Sweden’s bid, allowing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to sign the protocol into law.

Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership in May 2022, swiftly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine earlier that year. Finland joined NATO in April 2023 – doubling the alliance’s border with Russia – but Sweden’s bid was mired in challenges.

Erdogan objected to Sweden’s accession, accusing Swedish officials of being too lenient on militant groups, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Sweden has since tightened its anti-terror legislation and pledged closer cooperation with Turkey on security concerns.

Another obstacle was Sweden’s approval of a small Quran-burning demonstration outside a mosque in its capital, Stockholm, which coincided with the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha, one of the most significant in the Islamic calendar. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan condemned the decision, saying “to turn a blind eye to such heinous acts is to be complicit in them.”

Erdogan’s eventual approval was won in part by a commitment from the United States, with the Turkish president signaling that he won’t sign the protocol into law unless Washington approves the sales of F-16 fighter jets to Ankara. US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin said Tuesday that Congress is waiting for the completion of accession documents before moving forward on the matter.

VILNIUS, LITHUANIA - JULY 11: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends the opening high-level session of the 2023 NATO Summit on July 11, 2023 in Vilnius, Lithuania. The summit is bringing together NATO members and partner countries heads of state from July 11-12 to chart the alliance's future, with Sweden's application for membership and Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine as major topics on the summit agenda. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Orban, considered to be the European Union leader closest to Russian President Vladimir Putin, initially indicated he was not opposed to Sweden joining the bloc, before working to stall it. Katalin Cseh, a Hungarian Member of the European Parliament, said last year that Orban’s blocking of Sweden’s bid was “quite simply, another favor to Vladimir Putin.”

But, following the Turkish parliament’s decision, Orban on Tuesday said he had invited his Swedish counterpart Ulf Kristersson to visit Hungary to negotiate the terms of Sweden’s accession.

Stoltenberg said he had a “good call” with Orban on Wednesday, adding “I look forward to the ratification as soon as parliament reconvenes.”

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