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US senators to submit resolution condemning democratic backsliding in Hungary

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Two U.S. senators will submit a bipartisan resolution to Congress condemning democratic backsliding in Hungary and urging its nationalist government to lift its block on Sweden’s accession into the NATO military alliance.

The resolution, authored by U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, and Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, comes as Hungary’s government is under increasing pressure to ratify Sweden’s bid to join NATO, something it has delayed for more than 18 months.

Unanimity is required among all NATO member countries to admit a new ally, and Hungary is the only one of the 31 member states not to have backed Sweden’s bid.

In the resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, the senators note “the important role Hungary can have in European and trans-Atlantic security,” but point out its failure to keep earlier promises not to be the last NATO ally to sign off on Sweden’s membership.

Hungary, the resolution says, “has not joined all other NATO member states in approving the accession of Sweden to NATO, failing to fulfil a commitment not to be last to approve such accession and jeopardizing trans-Atlantic security at a key moment for peace and stability in Europe.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a staunch nationalist who has led Hungary since 2010, has said that he favors Sweden’s NATO accession, but that lawmakers in his party remain unconvinced because of “blatant lies” from Swedish politicians on the state of Hungary’s democracy.

After Turkey’s parliament voted to back Stockholm’s bid in January, attention has shifted to Budapest, the last holdout, as NATO members seek to expand the alliance amid Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The senators’ resolution criticizes Orbán’s increasingly warm relations with Russia and China, and notes that while Hungary has opened its doors to Ukrainian refugees fleeing Moscow’s invasion, it has also “resisted and diluted European Union sanctions with respect to the Russian Federation.”

Orbán, widely considered to be the Kremlin’s closest EU ally, has long been criticized for flouting the bloc’s standards on democracy and the rule of law. The EU has withheld billions in funding from Budapest over alleged breaches of its rules.

A bipartisan delegation of U.S. lawmakers, including Shaheen and Tillis, is set to visit Budapest on Sunday for a “mission focused on strategic issues confronting NATO and Hungary,” underscoring the growing impatience among Hungary’s allies after its delays in ratifying Sweden’s NATO bid.

The senators’ resolution charges that Orbán has “used migration, the COVID-19 crisis, and the war against Ukraine” to justify successive states of emergency that have allowed the Hungarian government “to rule by decree, bypassing the parliament.”

It also criticizes Orbán for meddling in Hungary’s media landscape, restricting civil liberties and seeking to crack down on dissenting voices.

In a state of the nation speech in Budapest on Saturday, Orbán indicated that Hungary’s legislature might soon move forward on approving Stockholm’s NATO membership.

“It’s good news that our dispute with Sweden is nearing a conclusion,” he said. “We are moving toward ratifying Sweden’s accession to NATO at the beginning of the spring session of Parliament.”

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