Hungary under pressure to ratify Sweden’s NATO bid after EU deal

Budapest: Pressure is mounting on Hungary to ratify Sweden’s bid to join NATO after Budapest finally joined other European Union states in agreeing on new aid to Ukraine.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday he “went to the wall” for his country before agreeing to the EU deal worth 50 billion euros ($54 billion) at a summit in Brussels on Thursday after weeks of resistance.

Hungary had been the only one of the 27 EU member states not to back the deal at a December summit. It is also the only NATO country that has not yet ratified Stockholm’s membership application, a process that requires the backing of all members.

Orban, who has better ties with Russia than other EU states and most NATO members, says his government backs Sweden joining the alliance. Now he faces pressure from abroad to accelerate the process.

Opposition lawmakers have called an extraordinary session of parliament for Monday to put Sweden’s NATO accession on the agenda. But lawmakers in Orban’s governing Fidesz party said on Thursday they would “wait” with a final vote until a meeting of Orban and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

Orban’s press chief did not respond to a query on Friday on when the meeting might take place.

Orban has a commanding majority in parliament which he has often used to ram through legislation, in some cases overnight, with his party’s lawmakers rubber-stamping policy changes.

Pressure rose on Orban to speed up the Swedish ratification process after senior U.S. lawmakers said they wanted Hungary to immediately approve Sweden’s accession, suggesting it risked lasting damage to relations with Washington if it did not act.

Hungary has not overtly made any demands of NATO as it drags its feet on approving Sweden’s accession.

Agreement on the EU aid for Ukraine finally came quickly on Thursday after Hungary’s prolonged resistance. Budapest has refused to send arms to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion and its ties with Kyiv have been marred by tension over the treatment of 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in western Ukraine.

Orban has been a vocal critic of the EU’s financial and military support for Ukraine and has maintained ties with the Kremlin throughout the war. “I went to the wall,” Orban said in a radio broadcast.

“If this deal had not been reached and Hungary had continued to use its right of veto then 26 member states would have agreed to send the money to Ukraine … and would have taken away the funds earmarked for Hungary and sent that to Ukraine as well — why would that have been good?”.

Under EU practices, it is not possible for money allotted to a member state in the bloc’s budget, or in what is known as the recovery fund, to be given away to a country outside the EU.

After freeing up access to some tranches of EU funds in December to Hungary, the executive European Commission is still withholding some 20 billion euros from Budapest over accusations that Orban has damaged democracy at home during his 13 years in power. His government rejects the accusations.