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Turkey approves Sweden’s NATO bid, leaving Orbán as final holdout – POLITICO

The Turkish parliament on Tuesday ratified Sweden’s bid to join NATO, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now expected to sign the accession.

Turkey’s move, which follows 20 months of diplomatic bargaining with Stockholm and Washington, leaves Hungary as the final NATO country still to proceed with Sweden’s bid to join the 31-member military alliance.

The ratification was adopted by the national assembly in a vote of 287 to 55.

“Today we are one step closer to becoming a full member of NATO,” tweeted Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

Now the lone holdout is Hungary.

Earlier on Tuesday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán reached out to Kristersson, asking him to come down to Budapest and negotiate about the NATO bid, an idea swiftly rejected by Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström.

Sweden applied to join in May 2022, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted the Scandinavian country to drop its traditional neutrality.

Hungarian officials have repeatedly reassured their Swedish counterparts that Budapest would not be the last to vote on Sweden’s bid to join the military alliance. After all, both are fellow members of the European Union — unlike outsider Turkey. Or so Sweden thought.

In recent months, Western diplomats and officials focused not on Orbán, but Erdoğan. The long-ruling Turkish leader, who slammed Stockholm’s lax treatment of critics against his ruling party, was considered to be the central figure in the resistance facing Sweden’s NATO application.

Given that assessment, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg centered his diplomatic effort around Ankara. On the sidelines of the NATO leaders’ summit in Lithuania half a year ago, Stoltenberg brokered a gentleman’s handshake between Erdoğan and Kristersson to move accession forward.

Hungary, despite its similar procrastination, was never taken as seriously. For Western diplomats, Hungary’s stance was mere grandstanding. Orbán, they said, was just hoping to prove his relevance by putting up a fight like he does in day-to-day EU policymaking.

“Orbán’s pushing really far this time,” said a Swedish official, granted anonymity to speak freely of the mood in Stockholm. “Even Erdoğan seems more genuine today.”

But Budapest isn’t pleased with Sweden pointing out its democratic backsliding; the EU has blocked billions in transfers to Hungary because the country doesn’t meet the EU’s rule of law standards.

Hungary’s delay is causing real concern among the frontline countries that are keen to see Sweden, with its powerful military and strategic position on the Baltic Sea, join the alliance.

“This will strengthen the whole Alliance and regional security. I hope Hungary will do the same soon and we will finally have the 32nd member of NATO,” tweeted Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs.

Kaja Kallas, the Estonian PM, wrote: “Hope that the last ratification follows quickly now.”

This article has been updated with reactions.

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