Finland moving forward – DW – 03/01/2023

Finnish lawmakers sealed the deal on their side, ratifying their own bid for NATO membership with a final vote of 184 to 7. Their previous decision, on whether to support the government in launching the process candidacy, received 188 votes in favor and 8 against. after 2 hours of debate on May 17.

Finland’s parliament overwhelmingly backed the government’s proposal to apply for NATO membership last May.Image: Finnish Parliament

Now the Finns just have to wait for their Hungarian and Turkish counterparts, the last two NATO members who have not yet approved their membership, with or without their co-candidate, Sweden. Their neighbor on the other side, Russia, is the reason the country sought NATO security guarantees in the first place, and Mosow’s brutality in Ukraine has only worsened during the wait. .

Turkey distorts the calendar

Unanimous approval was not a foregone conclusion, despite enormous optimism at the start of the process. Hungary is still lagging behind, but the real problems began when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held back applications from the two countries, mainly due to their perceived tolerance of Kurdish groups he sees as enemies. But it is really on Sweden that he focuses.

Turkey holds key to NATO membership for Sweden and Finland

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An agreement between the three countries at the NATO summit in Madrid to resolve their differences did not resolve matters between Stockholm and Ankara. The officially designated Kurdish terrorist organization, the PKK, has increased its visibility during demonstrations where militants have personally targeted Erdogan. Separately, a far-right extremist burned a Koran, stoking Ankara’s animosity towards the Swedish government.

“We do not have, relatively, a major problem with Finland, but we always stress that Sweden should take concrete steps,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month.

Stoltenberg endorses split candidacy

Fearing that the two countries would be stuck if they insisted on staying together, NATO changed tack. “The main question is not whether Finland and Sweden are ratified together,” now says General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg. “The main issue is that they both be ratified as full members as soon as possible.”

The speed with which is “possible” causes some irritation. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, speaking to the press alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a parliamentary debate, said she would have hoped Finland and Sweden were already members , as they fulfilled all the criteria.

“Of course, this also puts a strain on NATO’s open door policy,” she said. “It has to do with the credibility of NATO.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg plays down the importance of Finland and Sweden joining simultaneously. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin always says it’s a priority.Image: Heikki Saukkomaa/picture alliance/dpa/Lehtikuva

It is also to strain relations between the two neighbours. When Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto first suggested in late January that Finland might have to join NATO without Sweden, his Swedish counterpart immediately asked for clarification. Haavisto was forced to hold a press conference to publicly reaffirm that the preferred accession route for Helsinki was, of course, Stockholm.

“Hands are tied” in Helsinki

But last month at the Munich Security Conference, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto was candid that Finland would go it alone if given the opportunity. “Our hands are kind of tied,” he said. “We have applied for membership. Should we now say that we are canceling our application? Which we cannot do.”

Henri Vanhanen, research analyst at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, says it’s really not an option to wait. “It would be very difficult for policy makers to justify themselves to people who are over 80% in favor of NATO right now,” he told DW. “Additionally, we see that more than 50% of Finns are now in favor of NATO membership at this stage, even if Sweden is not ratified.”

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson would prefer Finland to wait and join Sweden, but no one knows how long that might take. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto has said he will move forward once Turkey and Hungary ratify Finland’s membership.Image: Matti Porre/Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has warned that leaving his country out of NATO could create a security problem for both Sweden and the alliance. But Henri Vanhanen does not see it that way.

“Sweden would be a NATO guest surrounded by NATO members and would have Finland over its eastern neighbor in NATO,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it would be the worst possible scenario.” For now, this is the most likely scenario.

Helsinki now faces time constraints on a number of issues. In addition to waiting for recalcitrant allies, Niinisto has three months from the date of this parliamentary approval to sign the membership protocol himself and have it filed in Washington, DC.

He said he wants the process to be completed by April, when Finland will hold parliamentary elections, so that the Finnish flag can be raised at NATO headquarters while those who did are still in job.

Edited by: Ruairi Casey

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