Hungary signals fresh delay in Finland, Sweden NATO approval
BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff signalled on Saturday a possible further delay in Budapest's ratification of Finland and Sweden joining NATO, saying a vote may take place only in the second half of March.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join the transatlantic defence pact after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But all 30 NATO members need to back the applications and Sweden has faced objections from Turkey for harbouring what Ankara considers to be members of terrorist groups.
With Hungary's ratification process stranded in parliament since July, Orban aired concerns about Sweden and Finland's NATO membership for the first time on Friday. Among other criticisms, he has accused both countries of spreading "outright lies" about the health of democracy and the rule of law in Hungary.
Nationalist Orban said more talks were needed between parliamentary groups before lawmakers vote on the membership bids, which they will begin debating on Wednesday.
A legislative agenda published on parliament's website this week showed a final vote on the NATO bids could take place in the week of March 6. However, on Saturday Orban's aide Gergely Gulyas said more time could still be needed.
"Parliament will put this on the agenda on Monday and start debating the legislation next week," Gulyas told a news conference.
"Based on Hungarian procedure, adopting legislation takes about four weeks, so it follows that parliament can have a vote on this sometime in the second half of March, on the week of March 21."
Last July, Orban's lawmakers pushed through legislation overhauling a small business tax hike in just two days.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Mark Potter)