Orbán sets ball rolling for Nato expansion vote in March
Hungarian prime prime minister Viktor Orbán has set the ball rolling for ratification of Finland and Sweden’s Nato accession.
His ruling Fidesz party, on Tuesday (21 February), proposed a plenary debate on Nato in the Hungarian parliament next week.
Political parties will meet in Budapest on Wednesday to finalise the spring agenda, with the debate due on 1 March and a vote expected in the week of 6 March or 20 March.
The Orbán breakthrough comes after months of unexplained delays, prompting speculation he was trying to blackmail the EU for frozen funds or carry water for Turkish and Russian presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin, both of whom he’s friendly with.
And it came with no public declaration on Tuesday either, said Ágnes Vadai, the shadow defence minister in Hungarian opposition Democratic Coalition party.
"Both in the EU and in Nato, he [Orbán] just wanted to show that he can block things if he wants to, without even explaining why to his partners," she added.
"I don’t think it’s a good sign of either strength or real solidarity in today’s international relations climate," Vadai said.
Finland and Sweden applied to join Nato last May due to Russia’s war in Europe.
But Erdoğan has demanded Sweden first extradite 120 dissidents of mostly Kurdish origin, creating a snafu which could see Finland join alone to begin with.
Putin, meanwhile, continued to rant against Nato in a state of the union speech on Tuesday.
The EU froze billions of euros due to Hungary because of Orbán’s dismantling of rule of law at home.
His coalition with the conservative Christian Democratic People’s Party has a whopping majority of 135 seats of 199 in the parliament in Budapest.
And this makes the final vote a foregone conclusion, unless he made a drastic U-turn, even though he has personally promised Nordic and Nato leaders that he backs the move.
But the outcome is unlikely to be unanimous, given that a far-right party, Our Homeland Movement, with six MPs hates Nato, Vadai, from the Democratic Coalition party, said.
It remains to be seen if Orbán’s decision influences Erdoğan.
The Turkish leader currently has his hands full dealing with accusations he let corrupt property moguls build unsafe homes in an earthquake zone.
A row with Sweden on Nato could help him play strong man ahead of upcoming national elections, EU diplomats and Turkey experts previously reckoned.
But the elections, originally due in May, might now be postponed due to the earthquake, posing the question if he will move on Nato before the Western alliance holds its next summit, in Vilnius in July.