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Weeklies on hurdles to Sweden’s NATO membership

September 25th, 2023

Critics of the government furiously condemn Fidesz for repeatedly bringing up new reasons for delaying the vote on Sweden’s bid to join NATO. A pro-government analyst believes that the misgivings of the government side are well-founded.

In Magyar Hang, Szabolcs Szerető accuses the government of ‘playing with other countries’ security’ by postponing the vote on Sweden’s accession to NATO for at least the third time. He goes so far as to condemn that attitude as ‘political gangsterism’. Consistent criticism by Swedish leaders towards Prime Minister Orbán’s illiberal politics, he argues, is not seen in the Atlantic alliance as sufficient reason to hinder Sweden’s accession. As a result, he writes, the Hungarian government is considered in high-ranking NATO circles as an unreliable partner.

In an even angrier column in Heti Világgazdaság, Árpád W. Tóta doesn’t ‘buy’ the explanation that Fidesz MPs are too offended by Swedish criticism of the state of democracy in Hungary to put the issue of Sweden’s NATO membership on the agenda. One real motive, he writes, could be to blackmail Sweden into supporting Hungary in convincing the European Commission to release the various funds destined to Hungary which have been suspended over rule of law concerns. He prefers a different explanation – namely that the Hungarian government is simply acting as a ‘Russian agent’. There are no procedures in place to evict Hungary from NATO, Tóta writes, but he is convinced that in the end, Sweden will become a NATO member and Hungary will be sidelined, one way or another.

In a first page editorial, Magyar Narancs partly disagrees with that interpretation. The editors believe in fact that the Hungarian government is just following Turkey’s approach to Sweden. Earlier this summer, they write, it looked like Turkey would soon give Sweden the green light to join NATO. At that time, Hungarian government circles predicted that Parliament would ratify Sweden’s accession in October. Meanwhile however, Turkey has told the United States that it will only lift its opposition to Sweden’s NATO membership after its purchase of F-16 fighter bombers is authorised by the US Senate. This is why, the liberal weekly suspects, the Hungarian government sought and found a new stumbling block to Sweden’s NATO membership in an educational video meant for schoolchildren in which Hungary is described as a country where democracy is backsliding.

In Demokrata, by contrast, Mariann Őry describes the video produced by a Swedish public television channel as an extremely serious matter. Hungary, she writes, has been threatened with sanctions and suspension of funds it is entitled to for the past eight years, in what she sees as an attempt to discourage member countries from rebellious attitudes. This time however, an unbalanced report on Hungary was aimed at influencing the thinking of schoolchildren which Őry considers particularly revolting. She agrees with leading Hungarian officials who ask how, under such circumstances, Sweden can expect Hungarian MPs to ratify Sweden’s accession to NATO.

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