March 5. 2024. 9:21

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Finnish parliament passes NATO bill with large majority


Finland’s parliament on Wednesday (1 March) overwhelmingly backed its bid to join NATO, with Helsinki’s eyes now turning to alliance members Hungary and Turkey to ratify its accession.

Finnish lawmakers ratified the requisite legislation on NATO’s treaties and Finland’s accession to the defence alliance on Wednesday, with 184 members of the 200-seat parliament voting in favour, seven against and one abstaining.

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Helsinki in May decided to join the Western military alliance, having until then relied solely on its own armed forces to defend the 1,300-kilometre border it shares with Russia.

Finnish lawmakers’ previous vote last May on whether to support the government in launching the application process was passed with 188 votes for and 8 against, showing the country had maintained consistent support on the issue.

New NATO aspirants must be approved by all 30 existing alliance members, and support for Finland’s application remains pending from Turkey and Hungary.

By adopting NATO’s founding documents, Finland may get a head start on neighbouring Sweden, which has also had its application held back by Turkey.

A deal between the three countries at the NATO summit in Madrid to work out their differences is yet to resolve things between Stockholm and Ankara.

After that, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said his country is ready to accept Finland into NATO, however, he has accused Sweden of harbouring people he considers members of terrorist groups.

Earlier in January, protests in Stockholm against Turkey and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, including the burning of a copy of the Koran, sharply heightened tensions with Ankara.

Sweden is also still awaiting approval from Hungary, whose parliament began debating the ratifications on Wednesday (1 March) and could hold a vote this month.

Budapest has so far not mentioned any obstacles to approving the bid.

The Finnish government of outgoing Prime Minister Sanna Marin, however, might not be ready to wait for neighbouring Sweden, as she wants to avoid any potential political vacuum caused by a delayed bid and with elections due on 2 April.

“We would have hoped to become members of NATO already. Finland and Sweden fulfil all the criteria, as has been mentioned,” Marin said on Tuesday (28 February), standing alongside visiting NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Helsinki.

“And of course, this strains the open-door policy of NATO; it’s also to do with NATO’s credibility,” Marin added.

Stoltenberg last week said he aimed to have both Nordic countries as members in time for a summit scheduled for July.

“The main question is not whether Finland and Sweden are ratified together [but] that they are both ratified as full members as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg said in Helsinki.

In the Baltic Sea region, Finland and Sweden’s looming NATO accession is seen as a strategic failure for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and an opportunity to close gaps in Baltic Sea security.

As they are already NATO partners, Helsinki and Stockholm have been part of an intensified exchange of information and NATO’s strategic communication since Russia invaded Ukraine. However, as they are short of full membership, it has so far not been possible to share other sensitive military information related to the region.

With Nordics set to join NATO, Estonia wants to close Baltic security gaps

In Estonia, Finland and Sweden’s looming NATO accession is seen as a spectacular flop for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and an opportunity to close a gap in Baltic Sea security.