BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary has further delayed a vote on ratifying Sweden and Finland's NATO accession bids, according to an updated schedule published Thursday on the National Assembly's website, the latest in a series of postponements that have frustrated Western allies.
The delay, which pushes the vote back by two weeks to the parliamentary session beginning March 20, comes as Hungary remains the only NATO member country besides Turkey that hasn't yet approved the two Nordic countries' bids to join the Western military alliance.
Hungary's populist prime minister, Viktor Orban, has said that he is personally in favor of the two countries joining NATO, but alleges that the governments in Stockholm and Helsinki have “spread blatant lies” about Hungary which have raised questions among lawmakers in his party on whether to approve the bids.
In a radio interview on Feb. 24, Orban confirmed that Hungary would send a parliamentary delegation to Sweden and Finland to seek "clarification" on such issues before the ratification could come to a vote in parliament.
“It’s not right for them to ask us to take them on board while they’re spreading blatant lies about Hungary, about the rule of law in Hungary, about our democracy and about life here,” Orban said. “(How) can anyone want to be our ally in a military system while they’re shamelessly spreading lies about Hungary? So let’s stop for a friendly word and ask them how this can be.”
The delays, which have come in succession since July 2022, have frustrated some in the European Union as well as members of Hungary's opposition parties.
In comments in Hungary's parliament on Wednesday, Agnes Vadai, a liberal lawmaker and a former secretary of state in Hungary’s ministry of defense, criticized the governing Fidesz party for the numerous delays, and accused them of deliberately dragging their feet on the vote.
“This could have been a quick and simple issue in Hungary's parliament, but it wasn't. It wasn't because there was always some excuse or stalling tactic from the governing party,” Vadai said, adding that dispatching a parliamentary delegation to Sweden and Finland was “the newest trick to postpone.”
The Hungarian delegation is expected to meet with Swedish assembly Speaker Andreas Norlén and other lawmakers in Sweden's parliament, the Riksdag, next Tuesday, according to a Riksdag statement sent to The Associated Press.
That meeting will focus on "the ongoing ratification process of Sweden’s NATO application, which is ongoing in the Hungarian parliament,” the Riksdag wrote in the statement.
A unanimous vote of all 30 NATO members is needed to admit new countries. With the exception of Hungary and Turkey, all other 28 members had approved membership for the Nordic countries by the end of September.
The northern European neighbors dropped their long-standing military neutrality and sought NATO membership in May in response to Russia's war in Ukraine.
Turkey has pressed the two countries to crack down on exiled members of Kurdish and other groups it sees as terrorists to secure ratification, and signaled it might vote for Finland's accession but not for Sweden's.
Jan M. Olsen contributed to this report from Copenhagen, Denmark.