Budapest - Hungary's parliament Monday approved Finland's bid to join NATO, putting an end to months of delays and bringing the Nordic country one step closer to becoming a full member of the Western military alliance.
The measure, passed with 182 votes for and six against, came after Hungary's government had for months frustrated allies in NATO and the European Union by repeatedly postponing the vote after nearly all other alliance members ratified Finland's bid.
While Hungary's approval was greeted with relief in Helsinki and elsewhere, NATO accession for Sweden remained up in the air as members of Hungary's governing party insisted they will wait for Stockholm to clear up lingering disagreements before they go to a vote. Finland and Sweden jointly applied for membership following Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
A general view of the Hungarian parliament as it votes for the ratification of Finland's NATO membership in Budapest, Hungary, March 27, 2023.
Adding to the uncertainly over Sweden's bid are Turkey's own objections amid accusations that Stockholm is too soft on groups that it deems to be terror organizations.
Agnes Vadai, a lawmaker with Hungary's opposition Democratic Coalition party, said Monday that the governing Fidesz party had been using 'pretexts' to delay ratification for the two countries, and that further stalling could push a vote on Sweden into early April or even May.
'There is no real reason for not supporting these countries,' Vadai, a former secretary of state in Hungary's ministry of defense, told The Associated Press. 'NATO accession shouldn't be a question of personal feelings and blackmailing.'
Turkey is now the only one of the 30 NATO members not to have ratified Finland's accession. Full unanimity is required to admit a new member into the alliance.
However, Turkey's parliamentary committee on foreign affairs last week approved Finland's NATO membership application, and a vote on accession is expected to be held before Turkey's presidential and parliamentary elections May 14.
While Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has long signaled his country's support for NATO expansion, his government has alleged that Swedish and Finnish politicians have told 'blatant lies' about the condition of Hungary's democracy which has left some ruling party lawmakers unsure of whether to support the accession bids.
In an interview with the AP at the United Nations Friday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the West's steady criticism of Hungary on democratic and cultural issues had made its government reluctant to offer support on practical matters, specifically NATO's buildup against Russia.
The EU, which includes 21 NATO countries, has for years accused Orban's government of cracking down on media freedom and LGBTQ rights, overseeing an entrenched culture of official corruption and co-opting state institutions to serve the interests of the governing Fidesz party.
Some Hungarian opposition politicians and analysts believe the country's foot-dragging on ratification had aimed at pushing Sweden and Finland to support the release of billions in EU funds earmarked for Budapest that have been frozen over alleged breaches of the bloc's rule-of-law standards.
But Samuel Agoston Mraz, director of the pro-government Nezopont Intezet thinktank in Budapest, said Hungary won't make a move regarding Sweden until Turkey decides on whether to approve the country's NATO membership bid.
Mraz said Hungary 'does not want to make decisions against the Turks' and wants guarantees from Stockholm on improving bilateral relations.
'Hungary is a supporter of a unified NATO. It does not believe in Turkey versus all the other member states,' Mraz told the AP.