Hungary starts Finland, Sweden NATO bid ratification process
Hungary's parliament started the ratification process for Finland and Sweden's NATO entry on Wednesday, after a months-long delay, with the country's president and a government official calling on lawmakers to swiftly back expansion of the alliance.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join the transatlantic defence pact after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But all 30 NATO members need to back the applications and Sweden has faced objections from Turkey for harbouring what Ankara considers to be members of terrorist groups.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday talks with Sweden and Finland over their NATO membership bids would resume on March 9, although he said Sweden had still not fulfilled its obligations under a memorandum signed last year.
With Hungary's ratification process stranded in parliament since July, nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban aired concerns about Sweden and Finland's NATO membership for the first time last Friday.
Among other criticisms, he has accused both countries of spreading "outright lies" about the health of democracy and the rule of law in Hungary.
Opening a general debate of the legislation on Wednesday, both Hungarian President Katalin Novak and a Foreign Ministry official urged lawmakers to ratify Finland and Sweden's NATO entry "as soon as possible".
Only around a 10th of Hungary's 199 lawmakers attended the opening debate on the process, with a final vote not expected until the second half of March.
"The expansion of NATO to Finland and Sweden is a significant step towards strengthening the security of the euroatlantic region," Foreign Ministry State Secretary Peter Sztaray said, speaking to a nearly empty chamber.
"The countries wishing to join meet all conditions of NATO entry," Sztaray said. "Finland and Sweden's NATO membership serves our foreign policy, security and economic interests and it also strengthens NATO."
On Friday, nationalist Orban said more talks were needed between parliamentary groups before lawmakers vote on the membership bids.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto on Tuesday said Hungary intended to send a parliamentary delegation to Finland on or around March 9 to discuss the Nordic nation's pending NATO membership.