Orban warned EU elites: The saga over Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to NATO continues. Turkey and Hungary are the only two member states who have objected to Nordic countries’ bid to join the alliance. Turkey imposed its conditions and signed off on an agreement with Sweden and Finland that made them change their laws on counterterrorism and arms embargoes. It is now Hungary’s turn to make demands.
In February 2022, Sweden and Finland abandoned their long-standing military neutrality and declared their intentions to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The move demonstrated the heightened security concerns across Europe in the wake of Moscow’s assault.
Over a year after the Nordic nations formally requested entry, their admission remains in limbo as two of the 30 NATO members – Turkey and Hungary – have not yet endorsed their applications.
Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has long indicated his country’s support for NATO expansion and has repeatedly promised that its Parliament would soon vote to ratify it. On the other hand, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has voiced specific objections to the countries, particularly Sweden, joining the alliance.
Orban said at a meeting of Central European prime ministers last November, “We have already confirmed to both Finland and Sweden that Hungary supports their bids to join NATO.”
He had further said, “The Swedes and the Finns have not lost a single minute of membership because of Hungary, and Hungary will certainly give them the support they need to join.”
But a series of Hungary’s delays along with its seemingly contradictory explanations for them has caused frustration and alarm in Sweden, Finland, and other countries of the bloc. It has elicited questions regarding Hungary’s intentions in causing them.
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However, Hungary is smartly derailing the NATO expansion because it wants to use pressure on the EU, which has frozen billions of dollars in funding to Budapest due to worries about alleged corruption and rule of law.
Hungary hopes that by manipulating the voting postponement, they might persuade the Swedes and the Finns to endorse or at the very least refrain from publicly criticising a probable April delivery of Hungarian funds.
You see, for years the EU, which includes 21 NATO countries, has accused the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of cracking down on media freedom and LGBTQ rights, overseeing an entrenched culture of official corruption, and utilizing state institutions to serve the interests of the ruling Fidesz party.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been a controversial figure in the European Union (EU) for some time now. Orban and his ruling Fidesz party have implemented policies that are frequently viewed as conflicting with the pro-liberal values and regulations maintained by the EU.
One of the most contentious areas of dispute between Orban and the EU has been immigration. Orban has been a vocal critic of immigration, particularly of refugees from Muslim-majority nations. He has refused to comply with the EU-mandated quotas of refugees assigned to Hungary, instead opting to construct a border fence and take a hard-line stance on illegal immigration.
Orban has been widely criticized for his treatment of the media in Hungary, with a number of laws passed that have been identified as infringing on press freedom and impeding the ability of independent media to operate. It has further been alleged that Orban has used state advertising to manipulate the media landscape, with friendly outlets being rewarded and critical outlets being punished.
In addition to these issues, Orban’s government has been harshly criticized by the EU for its perceived illiberal policies. These include restrictions on the rights of non-governmental organizations, revisions to the country’s constitution that have been interpreted as weakening the independence of the judiciary, and a severe clampdown on academic freedom.
Orban has been accused of maintaining a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, even after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
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Despite these criticisms, Prime Minister Orban has consistently held a majority of the Hungarian public’s favor, as evidenced by his re-election in 2014 and 2018. His policies, particularly those concerning immigration, are seen to be in line with the beliefs and values of the Hungarian people.
However, his policies have put him at odds with the European Union, which is committed to protecting and promoting liberal values and policies across the continent. In response, the EU has threatened to withhold funding from Hungary due to its policies on immigration and has launched multiple legal proceedings against the country concerning its treatment of the media and other matters.
In a resolution passed by the European Parliament last year, EU lawmakers declared that Hungary had become “a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy” under Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist government, and that its disregard for the bloc’s democratic values had removed it from the community of democracies.
Such sustained criticism from both liberal and conservative European politicians, combined with the EU’s insistence that Hungary undertake a number of major reforms in order to gain access to the billions of euros in suspended funding, has led Orban’s government to retaliate. It has done so by blocking some of the EU’s sanctions against Russia, vetoing an 18 billion euro ($19.1 billion) aid package to Ukraine, and delaying the vote on NATO accession.
In a further indication that Hungary’s withholding of its NATO ratification vote was linked to frozen EU funds to Budapest, a delegation of lawmakers from the Hungarian parliament travelled to Stockholm and Helsinki in early March. The intention was to resolve the “political disputes” that Prime Minister Viktor Orban stated had caused some Hungarian lawmakers to hesitate in their support for the Nordic countries’ applications.
Last month, in a radio interview, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban expressed his disagreement with Sweden and Finland’s requests for NATO accession, stating that it was “not right” for them to do so while “shamelessly spreading lies about Hungary, about the rule of law in Hungary, about democracy, and about life here.”
Despite the Hungarian delegation signaling their support for the NATO accession bids, Hungary’s parliament has postponed the ratification vote twice in two weeks and has not provided a firm date for when the vote will take place.
Doubtless, Finland and Sweden’s bid for NATO has become an avenue for nations like Hungary to exploit and bully the European union. And, why should they not? European Union has long done the same with the bloc members.
Following in the footsteps of Turkey, Viktor Orbán is discovering his own power to twist circumstances to Hungary’s advantage. Only time will tell how lucrative this adventure of his would turn out to be.
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