On March 21, Hungary’s diplomacy suffered a setback when Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared he was prepared to call the first ministerial meeting of the Nato-Ukraine Commission since 2017, ostensibly against Hungary’s wishes. The move “hurts the cherished unity of Nato,” according to Budapest.
Long road to NATO
Six years have passed since the last ministerial meeting of the Nato-Ukraine Commission. Three years before Russia’s full-scale invasion, the previous conference occurred in Kyiv in 2019 at a lower level, with Nato ambassadors joining Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and some of his ministers.
Since 2017, Hungary has prevented Kyiv and Nato from holding high-level negotiations, citing a law on the Ukrainian language that it claims is discriminatory and was passed the same year. According to Budapest, the rule makes it difficult for the estimated 150,000 Hungarian Transcarpathian ethnic minority members to pursue education in their mother tongue.
The Hungarian government’s concerns over the rights of ethnic minorities were taken seriously by the Nato chief, according to Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, during their Tuesday meeting.
While Stoltenberg acknowledged that he agreed with Hungary’s concerns regarding the safety of minorities, he pointed out that the purpose of having the Commission meeting was to show solidarity for Ukraine.
Hungary would not accept Ukraine’s integration into NATO and the EU unless the rights of the Hungarian national community in Ukraine are restored, Szijjarto told Hungarian reporters in Brussels. This is because convening a ministerial-level conference represents a breach of Nato’s unity. He also discussed the “enormous pressure from both sides of the Atlantic,” as the government understood.
Meeting in Brussels
On April 4-5, the meeting will occur in Brussels in conjunction with a discussion of NATO’s foreign ministers.
On Tuesday, Stoltenberg and Szijjarto also discussed the subject of the two new military alliance members’ lengthy ratification procedures.
The parliament in Budapest will vote on Finland’s membership on March 27, according to Stoltenberg, but it is unknown when or if it will also vote on Sweden’s admission. This was confirmed to him by Hungary’s top diplomat.
Hungary makes obstacles for Sweden and Finland
Hungary is still the only EU member of Nato that has not ratified the two Nordic countries’ application. Since July, the procedure has stagnated. The Hungarian government provides several explanations for the delay. The Orban government has been exploiting the delay to exert pressure on the European Commission, which has frozen billions of dollars in funding due to worries about corruption and the rule of law, as has been evident over time.
Before the end of March, the administration must complete more than two dozen requirements (super milestones), including legislation on judicial reform.
Szijjarto also shied away from elaborating on the issue with Sweden’s bid. Several commentators have predicted that Hungary may delay the ratification process until the end of June when Sweden would have the rotating EU chair.
Judit Varga, the minister of justice for Hungary, was the only one to vote against a joint motion Monday endorsing the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin of Russia. For his suspected involvement in the war crime of the forcible deportation of children from seized territories of Ukraine to Russia, the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Friday issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Image: Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó (R) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg; Source:Hungary Today.