Turkey has approved Sweden’s NATO membership bid, but Hungary remains set against Stockholm entering the alliance.
The Turkish parliament voted to allow Sweden to join NATO on Tuesday, removing one of the two barriers that were still standing between the Nordic country and its accession to the military alliance.
Now, only Hungary’s opposition is preventing NATO from having the unanimous backing it needs to add a new member.
“Today we are one step closer to becoming a full member of NATO,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. After praising Turkey’s decision, the alliance’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement that he also counts on Hungary “to complete its national ratification as soon as possible.”
Turkey’s approval came after more than a year of delay due to complaints from Ankara that Stockholm was too lenient on groups that the country considered terrorist threats, including Kurdish militants. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had also linked the country’s ratification of Sweden’s bid to the purchase of 40 new F-16 fighter jets from the US for its own fleet.
Since then, Sweden has changed its legislation around anti-terrorism and curbed the financial activities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is outlawed in Turkey.
But even after this key hurdle has been removed, the final step for Sweden to join NATO remains a tricky one.
What’s going to take for Sweden to join?
It’s not exactly clear why Hungary has so far refused to back Sweden’s bid to join the military alliance. Prime minister Viktor Orbán long insisted that his country wouldn’t be the last to give Sweden its approval – but here we are nearly two years after Sweden first expressed its wish to join NATO, and Hungary is, in fact, the last country holding its accession back.
Orbán’s reason against Sweden’s bid appears to be linked to the state of Hungary’s democracy, which has been chipped away at by the prime minister’s authoritarianism. Orbán, now in his fourth consecutive term in office, accused Swedish politicians of telling “blatant lies” about his country’s democratic backsliding.
Washington-based NGO Freedom House gives Hungary a 3.96 out of 7 democracy score, which means it no longer considers the country a democracy. According to the NGO, Orbán’s party has consolidated its control over Hungary’s independent institutions through its decades in power thanks to controversial legal and constitutional changes.
The Hungarian prime minister has also broken ranks with NATO allies by adopting a Kremlin-friendly stance toward Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On Tuesday, he said that he had invited Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to Budapest to discuss “future cooperation in the field of security and defence as allies and partners.”
Russia has reacted negatively to Sweden’s wish to abandon its decadeslong non-alignment policy, as the country’s accession to the alliance would leave the Baltic Sea surrounded by NATO countries.
Unless an emergency session of Hungary’s parliament is called to debate Sweden’s NATO bid, its next scheduled assembly is expected on 26 February.