20 Feb 2024, 18:22
Update : 20 Feb 2024, 20:17

Swedish PM to visit Hungary ahead of NATO bid vote

BUDAPEST, Feb 20, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson 
will meet Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban on Friday, three days ahead of a 
key parliamentary vote on Sweden's bid to join NATO, officials said Tuesday.

Following Turkey's ratification last month, Hungary remains the last NATO 
member stopping Sweden from joining the alliance.

After Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Sweden applied to join NATO in May 2022, 
at the same time as Finland.

Although it says it supports Stockholm in principle, Budapest prolonged the 
process by asking Sweden to stop "vilifying" Orban's nationalist government.

Kristersson's talks with Orban in Budapest will include "defence and security 
policy cooperation between Hungary and Sweden," the Swedish government said 
in a statement.

Orban wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that it would be his "pleasure" to 
welcome Kristersson to Budapest.

Hungary's parliament will vote on Sweden's NATO bid on Monday.

Earlier, when announcing the vote, Mate Kocsis, leader of the ruling party 
Fidesz parliamentary group, said his group "intended to support" Sweden's 

- Rebuild trust -
Orban announced on Saturday that Hungary was "on course" to ratify Sweden's 

"The good news is that our current dispute with Sweden is moving towards a 
conclusion," he sad.

"Together with the Swedish PM, we have taken important steps in order to 
rebuild trust," he said, without giving details.

Asked about the remarks, Kristersson said Monday that he did not know what 
Orban had meant.
"I simply think there is a strong will to finalise this process of NATO 
accession," Kristersson said.

Swedish officials have insisted there would be no negotiations on 
ratification. Orban at first posted on X, the former Twitter, that he invited 
Kristersson to "negotiate".

In an invitation letter, he did not use the word "negotiate" but said he was 
inviting him to "exchange views on all issues of common interest".

Budapest has often denounced what it called Sweden's "openly hostile 
attitude", accusing Swedish representatives of being "repeatedly keen to bash 
Hungary" on rule-of-law issues.

Since Orban returned to power in 2010, the nationalist premier has cemented 
his power with critics accusing him of democratic backsliding.

Orban -- the sole EU leader to have maintained ties with the Kremlin after 
the invasion of Ukraine -- also frequently clashes with Brussels over rule-
of-law, LGBTQ and asylum seeker rights and other issues.

Brussels has frozen billions of euros amid suspicions that European funds 
were being misused.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Monday criticised Hungary's 
"unacceptable" delay in ratifying Sweden's NATO accession with the Russia-
Ukraine war raging.

Over the weekend, a group of bipartisan US senators visited Hungary to press 
the country over Sweden's bid. The government refused to meet with them.

NATO membership applications require unanimous ratifications by all alliance 

Finland became the 31st member of the military alliance in April.

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