- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 7, 2023

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A parliamentary delegation from Hungary said Tuesday that it supports Sweden’s NATO membership bid after meeting the speaker of the Swedish parliament to iron out what Hungary’s governing party has called “political disputes.”

Some Hungarian lawmakers have raised doubts about whether to support the NATO membership applications by Sweden and Finland, citing what they call “blatant lies” from Stockholm and Helsinki on the state of Hungary’s democracy.

But the Hungarian delegation indicated Tuesday that the parliament in Budapest would ultimately ratify Sweden’s NATO bid.

“We support Sweden’s NATO membership,” Hungary‘s deputy parliamentary speaker, Csaba Hende, told Swedish news agency TT.

“We made it clear that the Hungarian government, the Hungarian president, the prime minister and most of the Hungarian parliamentarians clearly support Swedish NATO membership,” Hende said, according to the news agency.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the statements by the Hungarian lawmakers.

“They are sending a positive message and recommending ratification. So, of course, we still have some way to go but we are making progress,” Stoltenberg told reporters.

The parliamentary delegation also met with Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström, who said that ”we assume the ratification will take place shortly.”

“The date that has been talked about is the end of March, and that is what we are aiming for,” Billström told TT.

Hungary is the only NATO member country besides Turkey that hasn’t yet approved Sweden and Finland‘s joint application to join to Western military alliance. The northern European neighbors sought NATO membership in May in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine, dropping their long-standing positions of military neutrality.

According to Aron Emilsson, chairman of the Swedish parliament’s committee on foreign affairs, who also met with the Hungarian delegation, the visiting lawmakers didn’t put forward any conditions for ratification.

“We talked about strengthening and improving bilateral relations and understanding each other’s constitutional traditions,” he told TT.

Hende said it was necessary to improve bilateral relations between Budapest and Stockholm. Hungarian officials have accused Swedish and Finnish politicians of telling “blatant lies” about Hungary.

“It would be appropriate that Swedish politicians, government representatives and members of the EU Parliament, based on completely untrue facts, do not indicate or imply that there is a lack of rule of law in a country,” Hende told TT.

The European Union has expressed repeated concerns about the state of democracy in Hungary under the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who earlier said it wasn’t right of Finland and Sweden “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.”

The Hungarian delegation plans to visit Finland next to clarify its positions. The delegation’s trip to the two Nordic countries pushed a ratification vote back by two weeks. Hungary’s parliament now expects to take up the measure during a session that begins March 20.

EU defense ministers are holding an informal two-day meeting in Stockholm, and Stoltenberg was scheduled to meet with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Tuesday.

Sweden currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.

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