Hungary's Parliament Set to Ratify Sweden's NATO Accession in Final Step Toward Membership

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) -- Hungary's parliament is to vote Monday on ratifying Sweden's bid to join NATO, likely bringing an end to more than 18 months of delays that have frustrated the alliance as it seeks to expand in response to Russia's war in Ukraine.

Hungary's government submitted the protocols for approving Sweden's entrance to NATO in 2022, but the matter has stalled in parliament since then over opposition by governing party lawmakers. Unanimous support among all NATO members is required to admit new countries, and Hungary is the only one of the alliance's 31 members that has not given its backing.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a right-wing nationalist who has forged close ties with Russia, has said that criticism of Hungary's democracy by Swedish politicians had soured relations between the two countries and led to reluctance among lawmakers in his Fidesz party.

But the vote on Monday is widely expected to approve Sweden's membership in NATO, removing the final hurdle after it first applied to join the alliance in May 2022.

Ulf Kristersson, Sweden's prime minister, met with Orbán on Friday in Hungary's capital, where they appeared to reach a decisive reconciliation. Following their meeting, they announced the conclusion of a defense industry agreement which will include Hungary's purchase of four Swedish-made JAS 39 Gripen jets and the extension of a service contract for its existing Gripen fleet.

Orbán said the additional fighter jets "will significantly increase our military capabilities and further strengthen our role abroad" and will improve Hungary's ability to participate in joint NATO operations.

"To be a member of NATO together with another country means we are ready to die for each other," Orbán said. "A deal on defense and military capacities helps to reconstruct the trust between the two countries."

Monday's vote on Sweden's NATO accession is just one matter on a busy agenda for lawmakers in the Hungarian parliament. A vote is also scheduled on accepting the resignation of President Katalin Novák, who stepped down earlier this month in a scandal over her decision to pardon to a man convicted of covering up a string of child sexual abuses.

After accepting Novák's resignation, lawmakers are expected to confirm Tamás Sulyok, the president of Hungary's Constitutional Court, as the country's new president.

Some opposition parties have said they will not participate in a vote to confirm a new president. But Sulyok was nominated by Orbán's Fidesz party, which has a two-thirds majority in parliament and is expected to easily approve his presidency.

A presidential signature is required for approval of Sweden's NATO bid to take effect, but it was unclear when that final endorsement would take place.

Hungary's allies in NATO and the European Union have put increasing pressure on it in recent months to drop its opposition to Sweden's membership. Last weekend, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators visited Hungary and announced it would submit a joint resolution to Congress condemning Hungary's alleged democratic backsliding and urging Orbán's government to immediately lift its block on Sweden's trans-Atlantic integration.