Hungarian delegation cites support for Finland joining NATO

HELSINKI (AP) — Hungarian lawmakers widely support Finland’s NATO membership but it is unclear when the parliament in Budapest will ratify the Nordic country’s bid, a parliamentary delegation from Hungary said in Helsinki on Wednesday.

Hungary’s deputy parliamentary speaker, Csaba Hende, said that most members of Hungary’s national assembly support admitting Finland to the Western military alliance but that more time was needed to secure ratification.

“Processing international agreements takes time,” Hende said according to Finnish public broadcaster YLE, adding that the four-person delegation had traveled to Finland’s capital to clarify the country’s position on various current international issues.

Hungary is the only NATO member country besides Turkey that has not approved Finland and neighboring Sweden’s joint application to join the alliance.

The Nordic duo sought NATO membership in May in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine, dropping their long-standing positions of military neutrality.

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

Matti Vanhanen, the speaker of Finland’s Eduskunta, or parliament, said Hungarian politicians have a wide understanding that admitting Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) border with Russia, would strengthen NATO.

“We had a conversation that cleared the air,” Vanhanen told reporters after meeting with the Hungarians. “The delegation didn’t confirm a concrete schedule (for ratification). It is up to the Hungarian parliament to decide.”

In a separate statement, the Finnish legislature said the delegation had “clearly expressed that they are not attaching any other issues to (Finland’s NATO bid) ratification” and that Budapest sees the country of 5.5 million fulfilling NATO membership criteria.

The Hungarian delegation’s trip to Helsinki came after a similar meeting with officials in Sweden, where the Hungarians said they supported Sweden’s NATO membership.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström on Tuesday expressed hope that Hungary would approve Finland and Sweden for NATO membership bids at the end of March.

The ratification of the two countries’ NATO accession has been delayed several times after first being submitted to Hungary’s parliament in July 2022. Lawmakers now are expected to vote on the matter in a session scheduled to begin March 20.

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