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The path to Sweden’s membership of NATO has been cleared after the Hungarian National Assembly voted ‘yes’ on 26 February 2024 in relation to Sweden’s application to join the alliance.

Of the 194 members of parliament who voted, just six rejected Sweden’s accession. Following the National Assembly speaker and Hungarian President Viktor Orbán signing the decision and the instrument of ratification being presented to the United States, which is the depository of the North Atlantic Treaty, all NATO allies will have approved Sweden’s application for membership. At the invitation of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltengerg the Swedish government can then formally decide to accede to the North Atlantic Treaty and thus formally join the alliance.

NATO will then number 32 countries, with Finland having become the 31st member of the alliance on 4 April 2023.

Both Sweden and Finland had formerly been neutral nations: Sweden since 1812 and Finland since the end of the Second World War. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine in February 2022 irrevocably altered the military-geopolitical climate in Europe. With broad support in the Riksdag, the Swedish government applied for NATO membership on 16 May 2022 and on 5 July 2022 all NATO member countries signed the Accession Protocol for Sweden.

The Swedish government submitted the bill on the country’s NATO membership to the Riksdag for approval on 8 March 2023 and on 22 March 2023 the Riksdag approved Sweden’s accession to NATO.

Meanwhile, the only allies failing to ratify NATO membership for Sweden – and Finland – were Turkey and Hungary. Ankara was holding the Nordic nations to task for being too lenient with Kurdish dissidents it considered terrorists, while the reasons for Budapest’s objections were less clear cut; criticism of the state of Hungarian democracy had been cited by Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, while President Orbán has a more cordial relationship with Putin than other European leaders.

While negotiations between Turkey, Sweden and Finland ultimately led Ankara to sign off on Finnish membership in March 2023 and Swedish membership in January 2024, Budapest ratified Finland’s membership in March 2023 but kept Sweden hanging until 26 February this year.

Perhaps not entirely coincidental to Hungary’s final approval of Swedish NATO membership was the signing of a contract on 23 February 2024 between the Hungarian Ministry of Defence and Swedish Defence Materiel Administration under which Hungary will receive four additional Saab JAS 39C Gripen fighters. The Hungarian Air Force already operates 14 JAS 39C/Ds, which it will own once their lease deal expires in 2026.

Hungarian President Viktor Orbán welcoming Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to Budapest on 23 February 2024: the day on which a deal was agreed for Sweden’s Saan to supply Hunary with four additional Gripen C fighters. (Photo: X account of V Orban)