Hungary has once again blocked progress on Sweden’s bid to join the NATO military alliance. On Monday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán led his party’s representatives in boycotting a special session of parliament which had been called specifically to ratify Sweden’s NATO accession protocol. The move was the latest in an ongoing effort by Orbán to leverage his veto power over enlargement decisions to further Hungary’s national interests.
Fidesz Party Boycotts Extraordinary Session, Delaying Sweden’s NATO Bid
The extraordinary parliamentary session was meant to fast-track Sweden and Finland’s memberships by avoiding domestic political disputes. Yet Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party refused to attend on Monday, depriving the session of the mandatory quorum needed to hold a vote.
Fidesz lawmakers offered no substantial objections to Sweden or Finland joining NATO, merely stating they wanted Sweden’s prime minister to visit Budapest and address the parliament directly. Critics dismissed this as a flimsy excuse for Orbán to continue obstructing the two Nordic nations while extracting more concessions.
This marks the third time Orbán has stalled Sweden’s accession, after previously delaying votes in December and in January despite repeated warnings from NATO allies. Sweden announced its intent to join NATO in May 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Germany and US Pressure Orbán as Frustration Mounts
“We don’t have much time for more games… Sweden deserves security guarantees,” said US Senator Bob Casey in a statement signed by dozens of American lawmakers. The bipartisan group of senators vowed to reassess future US-Hungary defense cooperation if Orbán did not immediately back Sweden’s bid.
Analysts believe Orbán is capitalizing on his ability to suspend NATO applicants that require unanimous approval while demanding various concessions from Brussels and Washington. His resistance reflects increasingly hostile relations with Western powers over rule-of-law disputes.
Background – Why Is Orbán Opposed to Sweden’s Membership?
While Orbán claims security concerns about admitting new members during the Ukraine war, his true motives likely relate to ongoing EU budget rule clashes.
Oil embargo dispute: Orbán bitterly fought EU plans last year to restrict Russian oil imports through Hungary, eventually winning exemptions until 2025. However, Sweden criticized these generous terms, and Orbán now views the country as an opponent on energy sanctions.
Autocratic reputation: Sweden and other Northern states have become leading advocates for stronger EU tools to address democratic backsliding. As Orbán dismantles Hungary’s liberal institutions, Sweden poses an ideological challenge. Granting it greater sway in Brussels through NATO risks further criticism of his illiberal governance model.
Billions in EU funding frozen: After years of attacks on media pluralism, judicial independence and anti-corruption controls, Brussels froze access to €13.3 billion in Hungary’s EU pandemic recovery funds and other financing last September. Sweden cheered the historic move against a member state. Restoring EU budget payments remains Orbán’s paramount focus as Hungary faces a contracting economy and 2024 elections. Sweden’s NATO entry is now his bargaining chip.
Latest Political Feud Worsens Hungary’s Growing Isolation
By thwarting Sweden’s NATO accession, analysts say Orbán is burning diplomatic capital within the Western alliance as Hungary shows signs of drifting closer toward Russia and China. He has refused to send weapons to Ukraine, retained close energy ties with Moscow and amplified Kremlin propaganda about the war.
Last week’s agreement to unfreeze EU funds came only after Orbán made significant capitulations to EU demands on corruption, though critics are doubtful meaningful reforms will follow. Meanwhile his obstruction of Finnish and Swedish NATO membership contradicts Alliance unity.
With Orbán pitted against Brussels in numerous domains and Hungary’s economy faltering, some question the durability of his power. However the savvy operator has overcome past controversies and remains the strong favorite ahead of April elections.
All signs point to continued brinksmanship by Orbán to wring final concessions from the EU, though ultimately most observers expect Hungary will approve both Sweden and Finland’s accession.
While delaying the Nordic states risks permanently rupturing US-Hungary relations, Orbán relies heavily on NATO protection. Sacrificing this over Sweden’s membership would constitute an extraordinary gamble.
Moreover, Sweden has limited direct leverage over EU funds, and its NATO entry alone does not fundamentally jeopardize Orbán’s obstruction of Brussels. Once he grandstands domestically to demonstrate his defense of national sovereignty, Fidesz will likely ratify the protocols.
NATO officials still hope membership is finalized for a July summit, but Orbán may drag out the drama until after April elections. While frustrating allies, such tactics shores up his conservative base. Even if Sweden joins by summer, lasting damage between Budapest and other NATO capitals seems inevitable.
|Possible Concession Demands by Hungary
|Exemptions from future EU Russian energy sanctions
|Softening of rule-of-law requirements on Hungary’s EU funds
|Increased NATO troop deployments in Hungary
|High-level meeting between Swedish PM and parliament in Budapest
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