Turkey, Hungary to ratify Finland’s NATO bid, Sweden left aside for now
Turkey and Hungary announced on Friday (17 March) they will greenlight Finland’s NATO bid soon, but are likely to leave Sweden – which applied to join the defence alliance at the same time – to the side for the time being.
In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland applied last year to join the trans-Atlantic pact but faced unexpected objections from Turkey. The parliaments of all 30 NATO members must ratify newcomers.
Speaking in Ankara alongside his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the country’s parliament will start ratifying Helsinki’s bid, but not Stockholm’s.
The Turkish president said Helsinki won Ankara’s blessing after taking concrete steps to keep its promises to crack down on what it sees as terrorists and to free up defence exports.
“We decided to start the ratification process in our parliament for Finland’s membership,” Erdoğan said after the talks in Ankara, adding he hoped parliament would endorse the bid before the 14 May elections.
Ankara says Stockholm harbours members of terrorist groups, a charge Sweden denies.
Ankara already gave its political green light to both countries last June in Madrid, but since then has held back from directing its parliament to vote on the Nordic countries’ accession to the alliance.
Niinistö said he welcomed Turkey’s decision and called it “very important” for Finland, which shares a long border with Russia.
“We expect and hope the Parliament has time and will be efficient,” Niinistö said speaking alongside Erdoğan.
Neither of the leaders specified a timeline for a vote.
In a Facebook post on Friday, Hungary’s ruling Fidesz parliamentary group leader, Máté Kocsis, said his party would be backing Finland and that a parliamentary vote is scheduled to ratify on 27 March.
A decision on Sweden will be made at a later date, Kocsis said.
However, the move leaves Sweden on a separate track for membership. Turkey is arguing Stockholm has not taken steps to fulfil the Madrid memorandum.
Erdoğan lauded Finland for taking “authentic and concrete steps” while criticising Sweden for not handing over those wanted by Turkey.
“I have a feeling that Finland’s NATO membership is not complete without Sweden,” Niinistö said in Ankara, commenting on the potential split in bids.
“We have so many common interests being neighbours and having the Baltic Sea area on our shores”, he added
NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who had earlier already said he’d prefer both countries join the alliance together – and ideally by the alliance’s Vilnius summit in July – welcomed the decision but urged that the procedures be sped up.
“The most important thing,” Stoltenberg said in a statement after Turkey’s announcement, “is that both Finland and Sweden become full members of NATO quickly, not whether they join at exactly the same time”.
NATO officials, however, say it is unlikely that Turkey’s parliament would sign off on Sweden’s bid before the country’s elections in May.
With that, the window of opportunity for Sweden to make it in time for NATO’s key summit in Lithuania in July would be very small, too.
The accession of Sweden and Finland to the pact will mean that all countries around the Baltic Sea are NATO allies. Alliance officials have stressed this would close important strategic gaps in the region.