Orbán’s party boycotts a session of Hungary’s parliament to further stall Sweden’s bid to join NATO

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Lawmakers from the party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán boycotted an emergency session of parliament on Monday where a vote was scheduled to place Sweden’s bid to join NATO on the legislative agenda, adding to 18 months of delays that have angered Hungary’s allies.

The governing Fidesz party, which holds an absolute majority in parliament, has stalled Sweden’s bid since July 2022, alleging that Swedish politicians have told “blatant lies” about the condition of Hungary’s democracy.

After Turkey’s parliament voted to approve Sweden’s accession in January, Hungary became the last of the military alliance’s 31 members not to have done so, leading its allies to pressure the nationalist government to hold a vote without delay. Orbán told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg last month that he would urge his party to ratify the bid “at the first possible opportunity.”

Monday’s session in parliament was supported by six opposition parties, but Fidesz lawmakers didn’t attend, scuttling the attempt to place a vote on the legislature’s schedule.

Several ambassadors from NATO member countries attended the proceedings, including U.S. Ambassador David Pressman. In brief comments to the media following the session, Pressman said that the United States looks forward to “watching this closely and to Hungary acting expeditiously.”

“Sweden’s NATO accession is an issue that directly affects the United States’ national security and affects the security of our alliance as a whole,” he said. “The prime minister pledged to convene parliament to urge parliament to act at its earliest opportunity. Today was an opportunity to do that.”

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers last week called on Orbán to immediately ratify Sweden’s bid, saying patience with Hungary is “wearing thin” as it continues to delay its approval.

In a separate statement, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised the prospect of imposing sanctions on Hungary for its conduct, and called Orbán “the least reliable member of NATO.”

Following the session on Monday, Agnes Vadai, a lawmaker with the liberal Democratic Coalition party, said that Orbán’s conduct has “put Hungary into a very humiliating position,” and that there was “no reason” for his government to have blocked Sweden’s NATO membership.

“I think that it’s very personal for Orbán, and it’s also very irrational what is he doing despite all the pressure that’s coming,” she told The Associated Press. “He himself should understand that (Sweden’s membership) is going to serve the interests and the security of the Hungarian society.”

Hungarian officials have indicated that Fidesz lawmakers won’t support holding a vote until Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson accepts an invitation by Orbán to visit Budapest to negotiate on the matter. Kristersson has said that he will make the trip, but only after Hungary approves his country’s NATO membership.

Fidesz said in a statement on Monday that ratification of Sweden’s NATO accession can take place during a regular session of parliament, “but we are expecting the Swedish prime minister to visit Hungary first.”

“If this is an important issue for the Swedes, the Swedish prime minister will obviously come to Budapest,” the party said.

Hungary’s parliament is scheduled to reconvene on Feb. 26. But Vadai, the lawmaker, said that there was no guarantee that Orbán’s party would commit to a swift approval.

“I’m not sure whether the opening session will start with the Swedish ratification, unfortunately,” she said.

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