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Parliamentary delegation to visit Sweden, Finland ahead of vote on NATO membership

A general debate was held in parliament on Wednesday on the NATO membership of Sweden and Finland.
2. March 2023 16:57

In his introduction to the debate, Peter Sztaray, the foreign ministry’s state secretary for national security, told lawmakers that the Hungarian government’s position is that the enlargement of NATO will be a significant step towards enhancing the security of the Euro-Atlantic region. Finland and Sweden are countries that meet all NATO requirements, he said, adding that they had armed forces that are compatible with the armed forces of NATO member states and shared democratic values of those member states. Sztaray noted that both countries have participated as NATO partners in several joint programmes since 1995, adding that “their accession will serve Hungary’s foreign policy, security policy and foreign economic interests”.

The state secretary however noted criticism directed at Hungary by the two countries which he called “unfounded” and “unjust”. For this reason the government supported the house speaker’s initiative to send a parliamentary delegation to each of the two countries for consultations in the coming days. “The security of the Euro-Atlantic region including Hungary, and restoring and maintaining peace must however come before any accusation or offenses,” Sztaray said, and asked MPs to vote in favour of ratifying Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership.

Zsolt Nemeth, of ruling Fidesz, said Hungary supports the enlargement of NATO, adding that the alliance would become stronger with the accession of Sweden and Finland. But, he added, Hungary did not conflate NATO enlargement with bilateral relations. Hungary is not supporting the two countries’ bids “out of mercy”, but out of its obligation to the alliance, Nemeth said. He said the ratification was “an excellent opportunity” for Hungary to speak with its partners and clarify “misunderstandings, allegations and lies”. The purpose of the parliamentary delegation’s visit is to aim for a relationship of a new quality, Nemeth said.

Lorinc Nacsa, a lawmaker for the allied ruling Christian Democrats, said NATO was an alliance for defence and not for war. Hungary has an interest in strengthening and enlarging that alliance, he said. Nacsa said that the Christian Democratic party supports the ratification.

The leftist Democratic Coalition said Sweden and Finland would strengthen NATO’s eastern flank and boost Hungary’s security. Lawmaker Agnes Vadai said Hungary’s ratification of the two countries’ membership “could have been quick and simple”, but “the ruling parties always had some kind of excuse or a stalling tactic”. Vadai said Sweden and Finland were not asking for a favour but were giving up their decades-long neutrality “as a result of Russian aggression”. She said the decision to send parliamentary delegations to the two countries was “another attempt at stalling”, arguing that the ruling parties could speak with Swedish and Finnish politicians anywhere, including Hungary.

The opposition Socialist Party slammed the “shameful stalling” by the ruling parties in the matter, arguing that the bill on Sweden and Finland’s NATO accessions had been before parliament since July. Tamas Harangozo said his party had proposed each week that the matter be put on the agenda, but the ruling parties had prevented a debate in the plenary sessions. In times of peace, this sort of behaviour would be “shameful”, Harangozo said, adding that Russia was “committing crimes against humanity” while tens of millions of Ukrainians had fled their country and hundreds of thousands of troops had died. The accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO is also in Hungary’s interest, he said.

Koloman Brenner of conservative Jobbik said his parliamentary group supported the accession bids. Given the situation in Ukraine, Hungary has an interest in standing up for European values, he said. Brenner said the foreign policy the government had been pursuing since the start of the war hurt Hungary’s national interests and its ability to enforce them.

The radical Mi Hazank party said peace, neutrality and independence should be among the most important values. Elod Novak said his party was the only one urging Hungary to veto the enlargement of NATO, arguing that it was seen as “another step towards a world war” and a “provocation”. Novak said Mi Hazank did not have any problem with either Finland or Sweden, adding, however, that peace in Europe was only guaranteed if NATO and Russia barely shared a border or did not at all.

Timea Szabo, of opposition Parbeszed, said she agreed with Nemeth that Hungary had an obligation to ratify the two countries’ NATO memberships, but added that she did not understand why it had taken seven months for parliament to hold a debate about the matter. Twenty-eight of NATO’s thirty member states ratified Sweden and Finland’s accession by the end of September, “but once again, Hungary . failed its western allies”, Szabo said. She said Parbeszed’s group fully supported the ratification of Sweden and Finland’s NATO entry, arguing that it also served Hungary’s security interests.

Fidesz said in reaction to the debate that the party will support Sweden and Finland’s NATO bids, but this had to be preceded by a dispute settlement. It is for this purpose that a parliamentary delegation will visit the two countries next week, the party group said in a statement.

Hungary’s ruling parties are committed to upholding, enlarging and strengthening NATO, Fidesz said. At the same time, the countries asking for Hungary’s help for their accession have insulted and made false accusations against Hungary on numerous occasions in recent years, they said. “Hungary deserves more respect,” they added.

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