Sweden on Cusp of NATO Entry as Hungary Plans Ratification

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(Bloomberg) -- Hungary’s ruling party is set to ratify Sweden’s NATO accession Monday, ending more than a year of wrangling and allowing a major boost to the alliance’s defense capabilities.

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Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party scheduled a vote at the start of the parliament’s spring session in Budapest next week. Fidesz, which commands a supermajority in the chamber, will support the motion, meaning it’s certain to go through. Swedish Premier Ulf Kristersson plans to visit Budapest on Friday to discuss the matter before the vote.

It’s the final approval needed for Sweden’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — crucial for the military alliance to improve its ability to defend its eastern flank, which doubled in length following Finland’s admission last April. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago spurred the two Nordic nations’ applications to join the bloc.

“We welcome this decision and look forward to being full members,” Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson said at a news conference in Stockholm on Tuesday, adding it was only the first step in the longer process of finalizing Sweden’s accession to NATO.

While Sweden was welcomed by most allies with open arms after its momentous decision to cast off its long-held policy of not being part of any military bloc, the accession process has been a grueling experience.

Turkey demanded concessions for more than a year and a half, before approving in January. Hungary then reneged on its promise to not be the last country to pass the bid, with Orban struggling throughout to articulate the reason behind his foot-dragging, which irritated Hungary’s partners in the European Union and NATO.

News of Hungary’s ratification was shared by the head of the ruling party’s caucus Mate Kocsis on Tuesday, as well as government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs, on social media platforms.

For Sweden, completing the membership process comes amid heightened urgency over Russia’s expansionist ambitions. The Nordic country is in the process of rebuilding its armed forces after decades of downsizing that had been sparked by the end of the Cold War, and expects to reach NATO’s threshold for military outlays, 2% of gross domestic product, this year.

As a member of the alliance, Sweden will strengthen the bloc’s presence in the Baltic Sea, and has said it aims to bolster NATO activity in Latvia by sending troops to the Canadian-led forces there. It also helps Finland as it plans supply routes and defenses of half of NATO’s eastern flank.

Hungary’s approval will be the latest in a string of high-profile issues where Orban ultimately relented. On Feb. 1, he dropped his opposition to an EU aid package he had vetoed less than two months prior. Orban has also reversed course on a pledge to block Ukraine’s EU membership.

--With assistance from Jonas Ekblom.

(Adds announcement of Swedish premier’s visit in second paragraph)

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