The Hungarian parliament ratified Finland’s NATO membership on Monday, putting Helsinki one step closer to joining the alliance but leaving Sweden waiting in the wings.
Members of Hungary’s parliament voted by a margin of 182 to 6 in favor of Finnish accession.
Helsinki now only needs the Turkish parliament’s approval — expected soon — to become a NATO member.
Hungary’s move comes after repeated delays and political U-turns.
Hungarian officials spent months telling counterparts they had no objections and their parliament was simply busy with other business.
Budapest then changed its narrative last month, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán — who has an iron grip over his ruling Fidesz party — arguing the point that some of his legislators had qualms regarding criticism of the state of Hungarian democracy.
Finland and Sweden have been at the forefront of safeguarding democratic standards in Hungary, speaking out on the matter long before many of their counterparts.
But earlier this month — just as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he will support Finland’s NATO membership — the Fidesz position flipped again, with its parliamentary group chair then announcing support for Helsinki’s bid.
Turkey’s parliament is expected to ratify Finnish membership soon. But it is keeping Sweden in limbo, as Turkish officials say they want to see the country implement new anti-terror policies before giving Ankara’s green light.
Following in Turkey’s footsteps, Hungary is now also delaying a decision on Sweden indefinitely — prompting criticism from Orbán’s critics.
Attila Ara-Kovács, a member of the European Parliament from Hungary’s opposition Democratic Coalition, said that Orbán’s moves are part of a strategy to fuel anti-Western attitudes at home.
The government’s aim is “further inciting anti-Western and anti-NATO sentiment within Hungary, especially among Orbán’s fanatical supporters — and besides, of course, to serve Russian interests,” he said.
“This has its consequences,” Ara-Kovács said, adding that “support for the EU and NATO in the country is significantly and constantly decreasing.”
A recent Eurobarometer poll found that 39 percent of Hungarians view the EU positively. A NATO report, published last week, shows that 77 percent of Hungarians would vote to stay in the alliance — compared to 89 percent in Poland and 84 percent in Romania.
But Hungarian officials are adding the spin that they do support Sweden’s NATO membership.
The Swedish government “constantly questioning the state of Hungarian democracy” is “insulting our voters, MPs and the country as a whole,” said Balázs Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister’s political director (no relation to the prime minister).
It is “up to the Swedes to make sure that Hungarian MPs’ concerns are addressed,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Our goal,” he added, “is to support Sweden’s NATO accession with a parliamentary majority as broad as possible.”