Finland is getting closer to joining NATO without Sweden

Finland is getting closer to joining NATO without Sweden


Helsinki (AFP), February 28, 2023

Finland on Tuesday begins a parliamentary debate aimed at speeding up the country’s bid to join NATO, raising the prospect that it will leave neighbor and military partner Sweden behind.

Finland, which shares one of Europe’s longest borders with Russia, and Sweden abandoned their decade-old policy of military non-alignment and applied to join the alliance last May after the invasion of Ukraine.

But facing fewer diplomatic hurdles than Stockholm, Helsinki appears poised to move ahead before Finland’s April general election as public opinion also supports membership.

Both countries enjoy the support of all but two of NATO’s 30 members, with Hungary and especially Turkey at odds.

Many Finnish MPs insisted on passing a law confirming Finland’s acceptance of the terms of the NATO treaty before the April 2 election.

Finland will debate the bill on Tuesday, with a vote expected on Wednesday.

The bill’s passage means Finland can act quickly, even if ratifications come before a new government is formed.

“The time has come to ratify and fully welcome Finland and Sweden as members,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday during a visit to Finland to meet with the political leadership.

“My message is that both Finland and Sweden have fulfilled what they promised in the tripartite agreement they signed with Turkey last June in Madrid,” he said.

Stoltenberg noted that Finland and Sweden are now much safer than when they applied, citing security guarantees from some members.

“It is impossible to imagine a threat against Finland or Sweden without a NATO response,” he said.

– Complications? –

The law is expected to pass without much opposition, with 188 of parliament’s 200 members supporting the original application for membership in May.

Until now, Helsinki has emphasized its preference to join the alliance together with Sweden, but some have interpreted the bill as a signal that Finland is ready to move forward alone.

Meanwhile, Turkey has blocked the applications, accusing Sweden in particular of providing asylum to what it considers “terrorists”, particularly members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

On the contrary, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Monday that Turkey is looking favorably on Finland’s bid.

“We can separate the accession processes of Sweden and Finland,” he said.

While Sweden is sympathetic to Finland’s position, Prime Minister Ulf Kristerson said Finland’s entry alone could “complicate” close military cooperation between the Nordic countries as Sweden remains alone outside NATO protection.

– “No more elections” –

While the bill’s passage does not mean that Finland will automatically join NATO after Turkey and Hungary ratify, it does set a deadline by which it can wait for its neighbor.

The chancellor of justice of the government, Tuomas Poisty, said that after the approval of the bill by the parliament, the president can wait for it to be signed for a maximum of three months.

After the president signed the law, Sweden still has to wait “a few weeks at most” before submitting its accession documents to Washington.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told reporters on Wednesday that he intends to sign the law “as soon as it is approved by parliament,” but “if there are practical reasons, I can wait.”

“But not after the elections,” he added.

Some MPs from the Left Alliance party, which has opposed encirclement in the past, believe that Finland should pass the law only after ratification to ensure a coordinated accession with Sweden.

But most Finns want to go ahead and join NATO even if Sweden’s entry is delayed, a poll earlier in February suggested.

Çavuşoğlu also announced on Monday that talks between the three countries would resume on March 9 after talks with Sweden were suspended amid a dispute over protests in Stockholm, including the burning of a Koran outside the Turkish embassy.

Hungary has signaled that a vote on the Nordic bids is likely to take place in March.

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