Sweden set to join Nato as Hungary prepares to remove final barrier to membership

PMs of both countries meet days before Hungarian parliament expected to vote in favour of Nordic country joining alliance

Sweden and Hungary have said they are “prepared to die for each other” as their prime ministers meet in Budapest for what has been described as Hungary preparing to remove the final barrier to the Nordic country joining Nato.

After months of diplomatic wrangling, Sweden’s prime minister Ulf Kristersson travelled to the Hungarian capital on Friday at the invitation of the Viktor Orban, for the highly anticipated meeting. His visit came days before Hungary’s parliament was expected to vote in favour of Sweden’s Nato ratification when it returns from its winter break on Monday.

The two leaders said they were ready to put their differences behind them in a warm but tightly stage-managed joint press conference, at talks that Stockholm hopes will finally put an end to Sweden’s Nato limbo.

Mr Orbán, who has “exasperated” western allies with Hungary’s foot-dragging, had previously pledged not to be the last Nato country to ratify Sweden. But since Turkey gave its approval last month, Hungary represents the final hurdle between Sweden and its entry into the alliance.


Asked what had made his country drop its opposition to Sweden joining Nato, Mr Orbán said: “Being members of Nato means that we are prepared to die for each other. It is based on mutual respect. Taking that process at an appropriate pace has been wise.”

While Sweden has “always been a close friend of Hungary”, the trust between the two countries had weakened and had been in need of repair, he said.

“It has given us time to rebuild the trust between us, which had actually been damaged. But that does not mean that Sweden and Hungary agree on everything.”

Mr Kristersson did not immediately respond publicly to Orbán’s invitation to visit – which came in late January as Turkey’s parliament approved Sweden’s membership – and Sweden’s foreign minister, Tobias Billström, initially sounded warnings of caution.

Soon afterwards, Mr Kristersson said there was nothing on which to negotiate with Hungary. But earlier this week, hours after the ruling Fidesz parliamentary group leader suggested that the issue be raised in Hungary’s parliament next Monday, Mr Kristersson’s office announced Friday’s visit.

The Swedish prime minister, who as leader of the moderates runs a centre-right coalition government backed by the far-right Sweden Democrats, said: “We respect each other’s differences and sometimes reach good compromises. Now we are also entering into joint Nato co-operation with precisely the attitude of being prepared to fight for each other in a dangerous time.”

Before the leaders took to their podiums, the two countries signed a military agreement in which Hungary will buy four new Gripen planes from Sweden to add to the 14 it has previously purchased.

While Mr Orbán insisted he did not see the aircraft sale as a “business deal”, he admitted that it had helped relations between them. “I’m not just satisfied with the outcome,” he said. “I have enjoyed rebuilding confidence between the two countries.”

But in an interview with a Hungarian radio station earlier in the day, Mr Orbán said the two countries were “entering into a serious military and military-industrial agreement”. He added: “We will finalise this today and on Monday the Hungarian parliament can put the last point on the contract.”

Sweden applied to join Nato in May 2022, at the same time as Finland, in a historic shift in its security policy prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that February.

While Finland’s ratification went ahead at record speed, officially joining last July, Sweden’s application has lagged behind – not helped by global outcry over a series of public Qur’an burnings in the country last summer.

As well as Nato, the two leaders said they also discussed EU security and defence, Hungary’s forthcoming EU presidency and plans for a joint AI research centre.

After Mr Kristersson’s arrival, Mr Orbán posted a picture on X of the pair shaking hands in front of huge Swedish and Hungarian flags with the caption: “Welcome to Hungary, @SwedishPM!”

Even if Hungary’s parliament votes in Sweden’s favour on Monday as expected, there could yet be room for more potential stalling as it will still need to be signed by the president. Hungary’s president, Katalin Novák, recently announced her resignation, so the appointment of a new president and the decision on Sweden’s Nato application could potentially overlap, meaning that it could yet be sent to the constitutional court. – Guardian