June 21. 2024. 5:33

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Finland impatient to leave Sweden behind on path to Nato membership

Almost a year ago, Finland surprised the world – and wrong-footed neighbouring Sweden – by announcing plans to join Nato.

Stockholm soon caught up with Helsinki and both filed joint accession requests last May to join the alliance, requiring approval of all 30 existing members.

But Sweden’s application remains blocked by Turkey over several issues, in particular how Stockholm deals with people whom Ankara views as terrorists.

Tensions ratcheted up still further last month after a Danish right-wing extremist burned a Koran in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm. In response, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would oppose the Swedish application as long as Stockholm did not impose a blasphemy ban.

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Despite Turkish opposition, Swedish and Finnish leaders insisted they would join Nato hand in hand.

But impatience is growing in Finland to get on with it, particularly among politicians who face parliamentary elections on April 2nd.

Last week members of the Finnish parliament’s foreign affairs committee told their Swedish counterparts they were preparing to vote on accession as soon as all member states have ratified the protocol.

On Friday Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg also opened the door to separate accession, saying “the main question is not whether Finland and Sweden are ratified together, the main question is that they are both ratified as full members as soon as possible”.

At the weekend, Finnish president Sauli Niinistö said his country faced a difficult decision if Turkey said yes to Helsinki but no to Stockholm.

“Our hands are in a way tied. We have applied for membership. Should we now say that ‘No, we cancel our application?’ No, that we simply cannot do,” he said, stepping up that message at a meeting on Wednesday with Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson.

“If Turkey ratifies Finland as we have asked them to do when we applied for membership, we will become members,” said Mr Niinistö after talks at the Swedish prime minister’s summer residence of Harpsund, 120km west of Stockholm. “I have said that I will sign immediately. If there are practical reasons, I can wait, but not beyond the election.”

Joining them at the meeting, Norwegian leader Jonas Gahr Störe agreed that Finland will be become a Nato member as soon as all member states back its application.

“Now it is the responsibility of the member states to ratify, 28 have done so,” he said.

After decades of non-alignment, Finnish public opinion flipped in favour on Nato membership shortly after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Finland shares a 1,340km border with Russia and Ukraine’s fate has stirred up painful memories of Finland’s winter war of 1939. For nearly four months, and with no western assistance, Finland face down an invading Stalinist Red Army.

Despite growing Finnish impatience, Swedes remain optimistic that all will work out in the end. Hungary has dropped its opposition to the dual accession and will debate the issue next week.

Meanwhile Turkey has announced a fresh round of talks with the two Nato applicants after a visit to Ankara by US secretary of state Anthony Blinken during a visit to Ankara.

After talks, which also discussed a Turkish order for US F-16 jets, Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu insisted it “would not be right or fair to make two independent issues conditional on each other”.

After approving extra aid for Turkish earthquake relief, Swedish leader Ulf Kristersson has said the first conciliatory signals from Ankara make it essential to “get back to these talks as soon as possible”. He added that Sweden had “great respect for the fact that it is Turkey that makes Turkish decisions”.