– Orban is provoking the Swedes – but he may give in now
Viktor Orban did not want to be the last one standing in the way of Sweden joining NATO, and he was the same after Turkey. Now it appears that the Prime Minister of Hungary has given up.
In September, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjártó wrote a letter to his Swedish counterpart. As is known, Sweden wants to join NATO, the Hungarian wrote to Foreign Minister Tobias Billström. Sweden relies on the Hungarian Parliament to ratify its accession. Unfortunately, Swedish politicians have made a name for themselves through a series of “biased, unfair and untrue claims”. The allegations from Stockholm relate to Hungarian democracy and the ability of the Hungarian people to decide for themselves about their future.
The letter was an open provocation that the Hungarian government spokesman enjoyed posting on X (formerly Twitter). The message was clear: If Sweden does not back down from its criticism, the country may wait a long time before joining NATO. Stockholm submitted its application for membership shortly after the Russian army attacked Ukraine, along with Finland, which now belongs to NATO.
Parliament postponed the decisive vote
Acceptance was not certain for a long time because Türkiye and Hungary were late to join. Istanbul had initially agreed, but then Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew his approval, citing anti-Muslim riots in Sweden. In Hungary, the Prime Minister indicated that they would not be the last country to say yes. But the Hungarian Parliament postponed the decisive vote from month to month.
But Türkiye has now ratified Sweden's accession to NATO on Tuesday. Viktor Orbán stands alone. Since then, a diplomatic crime thriller has developed with a difficult to predict ending.
When Turkey's approval became imminent, Orban posted a message to X: He had invited the Swedish prime minister to Hungary so he could negotiate with him about Sweden's accession. “Negotiate” – that is a strong word for a country like Sweden, which is able to demonstrate all other ratifications to join NATO.
Orban appears to be giving in – but this is not certain
Then Budapest actually sent the letter, but that was another provocation. Swedish Foreign Minister Billstrom responded publicly, saying he saw no reason for negotiations, but expressed his hope that Hungary would ratify his country's accession to NATO as soon as possible. He noted that the message is better than advertising on X.
But it has also become clear that Orban cannot continue the power game forever. Hungary is the only country in the European Union that completely rejects arms sales to Ukraine. Orban, who has courted Vladimir Putin for many years, has clearly positioned himself against Kiev.
But Orban may only be partly interested in preventing a strengthened NATO. The Hungarian repeatedly tries to use his political veto to obtain EU funds blocked due to rule of law measures against Hungary.
Orbán then tweeted again
Türkiye also conditioned its approval on the demands. Erdogan called on Stockholm to take tougher measures against the PKK F-16 fighter jets from the USA. The first condition is largely met.
For a long time, it seemed as if Orban was keeping the future course of action regarding Sweden's NATO membership open. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, he tweeted again: He had assured NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a phone call that he supported Sweden's accession – and that Parliament would ratify it as soon as possible.
It can, but it doesn't have to mean anything. Orban often likes to stress that Parliament is independent. Meanwhile, his party, Fidesz, has a clear majority. If he had wanted to, his deputies would have agreed long ago. The Prime Minister himself has repeatedly stressed that he supports Sweden's accession in principle. But: An announcement like this on a day like this could pretty much mean Orban will give up. Because he extended his hand too much – and he knows it.
Catherine Calouet He has been back in Vienna since September 2020 as correspondent for Central and Eastern Europe. More information