April 19. 2024. 8:18

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Sweden, Finland on different tracks for NATO accession


As Sweden continues to wait for the next step in its NATO application process with no new meetings with Hungary or Turkey scheduled, Finland is powering ahead in its bid to join the Alliance.

Sweden and Finland simultaneously applied for NATO membership on 18 May 2022, and the ratifications of Hungary and Turkey are still pending. Budapest promised ratification by the end of March, while Turkey has so far only pledged to ratify Finland’s application, probably before the Turkish parliament closes on 7 April ahead of elections in mid-May.

Even if NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg promised that Swedish membership is now a “top priority” for the Alliance, it seems impossible to change the Turkish government’s mind.

The issue is the refusal of the Swedish authorities to extradite members of the Turkish opposition, mainly Kurds, who had taken refuge on its territory and the burning of Qurans by a far-right activist.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also declared earlier in February that he would not accept Sweden’s application if Stockholm does not ban Quran burnings, which the Swedish government has so far refused to do.

“We stand where we are,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström on Monday before a meeting in Brussels.

Both Billström and his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Cavusoglu were in Brussels for the day, but there were no individual meetings to discuss Sweden’s NATO process.

“We are aware of each other’s respective positions, and they are unchanged. So we don’t see the need for further discussions,” said Billström.

There are also no extra meetings planned with Hungary to clarify the situation regarding Budapest’s ratification of Swedish and Finnish membership.

“As long as we have not heard anything else, we assume that we will be ratified. We think this is a reasonable assumption,” Billström added.

As recently as Thursday, it was assumed that Hungary would ratify the Nordic applications on the same day – 31 March – but, on Friday, the leader of the governing party, Fidesz, wrote that the approval of Finland would be made earlier, on 27 March.

While Sweden is stalling, Billström’s Finnish counterpart, Pekka Haavisto and Finnish Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen visited NATO headquarters on Monday for an extraordinary meeting with Stoltenberg.

The meeting came after Turkey promised to ratify Finland’s membership on Friday.

“Our membership will not be complete until Sweden is also a member. We share the same security environment, we share the Baltic Sea and it is very important that Sweden also becomes a member,” the Finnish foreign minister has said.

Both Finland and NATO are pushing hard for Sweden to join.

(Charles Szumski | EURACTIV.com)