Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (L) with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in 2022
Only a few days ago strong words from Ankara and silence from Budapest had injected more uncertainty into Sweden’s chances of joining the NATO defense alliance during next-week’s summit in Vilnius. However, signs are emerging that diplomatic lines are hot and progress is slowly being made.
Last week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan poured cold water over some of the Scandinavian country’s over-optimistic foreign minister’s remarks by saying that
The fact that Sweden has expectations does not mean that Turkey will meet them”.
Yet on Thursday voices from NATO’s HQs in Brussels indicated that Sweden’s membership could be within reach. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that he would call a meeting of Turkish and Swedish leaders on Monday ahead of the Vilnius summit on Tuesday and Wednesday. “The important thing is to achieve a result on Swedish accession next week,” the Secretary General added.
In turn, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström told reporters that he hoped Ankara could approve his country’s accession to NATO next week. “We are hopeful and expect a positive decision next week, but I would like to stress that it is up to Turkey,” the Swedish Foreign Minister said.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó with his Swedish counterpart Tobias Billström (R).
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said that for Turkey to approve its membership of NATO, Sweden would have to prove that the announced amendments to the law would be applied, in particular the incorporation of the amendments to the anti-terrorism law into its legal order. Sweden has taken some steps on the required legal changes, such as lifting defense industrial restrictions against Turkey. “The legislative changes must now be reflected in practice,” added the Turkish Foreign Minister.
At the same time during the regular Government Info press conference Gergely Gulyás, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office, said that Hungary has promised not to block Sweden’s accession to NATO, although this would not be unjustified for several reasons.
We promised not to, and we will keep our promise”,
Minister Gulyás said.
The softening of the Hungarian and Turkish stance certainly means that intensive diplomatic efforts are ongoing, yet both Stoltenberg and Billström could be getting ahead of themselves with optimistic statements. It is clear that Hungary will co-ordinate with Turkish diplomacy in its stance over Sweden’s accession, but the government in Budapest did not tie its vote to any political concession from Sweden in return for their membership. Sweden is not expected to drop its joint legal challenge against the Hungarian Child Protection Legislation, but had made a slight gesture by not calling for the suspension of Hungary’s Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2024, like some other European politicians did.
Featured Image: MTI/Miniszterelnöki Sajtóiroda/Fischer Zoltán