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NATO: Germany urges swift approval of Finland, Sweden bids

February 13, 2023

Finland and Sweden's NATO membership bids remain blocked by members Turkey and Hungary. Germany's top diplomat Annalena Baerbock said she expected their NATO accession to take place "without further delay."

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock meets with her Finish counterpart Pekka Haavisto in Helsinki
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is holding talks with officials in Finland and Sweden this week in a bid for progress on their NATO bidsImage: Christophe Gateau/dpa/picture alliance

Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday she expected all NATO member-states to sign-off Finland and Sweden's joint membership bid, which has thus far been slow and complicated.

Baerbock called on NATO members Turkey and Hungary to pave the way for the Nordic countries' membership "without delay." 

What happened during the talks in Finland?

Speaking from Helsinki on Monday during a joint press conference with her Finnish counterpart, Baerbock said the accession of Finland and Sweden would strengthen the NATO alliance as a whole. 

"To make it clear once more, Finland and Sweden fulfill the criteria we have agreed upon together as NATO members in Madrid," Baerbock said, in reference to last summer's NATO summit, where the two countries formally requested to join the military alliance.

Turkey and Hungary are the only two countries in the transatlantic military alliance who have not yet approved their membership bids.

Hungary said it intended to sign it off early this year, but Turkey has been more vocal with its reluctance. It threatened multiple times to block the membership bids over accusations, particularly against Sweden, of the two countries supporting "terrorism."

Finland had last month signaled it might be ready to pursue a single bid if Sweden's accession would slow the process down.

On Monday, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto expressed gratitude for Germany and the other member-states who approved the bid.

"We hope that Finland and Sweden will be ratified at the same time," he said, adding that Finland was in constant contact with Hungary and Turkey.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (L), NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (M) and Swedish former Ministry for Foreign Affairs Anne Linde (R) after the signing of the accession protocols of Finland and Sweden at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on July 5, 2022
Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the NATO alliance last summerImage: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

What is the latest on the Nordic duo's NATO accession?

Both Finland and Sweden have for decades maintained a neutral military stance within Europe and beyond. However, Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year prompted the Nordic neighbors to change course, seeking NATO membership for the first time.

In order to join the alliance, the duo must secure the unanimous approval of all 30 members. Turkey has been vocal about its reservations, citing the countries' support to and hosting of what it describes as "terrorists," in reference mostly to exiled Kurds.

Last summer, ahead of a historic NATO summit, Finland, Sweden and Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding, paving the way for Turkey's approval of the former countries' NATO bid.

However last month, Turkey announced the unilateral postponement of NATO accession talks with Sweden and Finland scheduled for February. The decision followed separate anti-Islam and pro-Kurdish protests held in Sweden.

In an interview on Saturday, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto hinted that the United States could put pressure on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to make an accession plausible by NATO's coming summit this summer.

"I think that under no circumstances will he allow himself to be influenced by any public pressure,'' Niinisto said of his Turkish counterpart. ''But if something opens up during the bilateral talks between Turkey and the United States, it might have an impact.''

What else is on Baerbock's agenda?

Germany's top diplomat is scheduled for talks on Tuesday with the Finnish president, before heading to Stockholm to meet her Swedish counterpart Tobias Billström in Stockholm.

Separately, Baerbock is expected to use the visit to promote German plans to create a pool of tanks to supply to Ukraine.

Last month, Germany approved the supply of heavy tanks to Ukraine, after mounting pressure from Western allies. Green lighting the transfer of the state-of-the-art Leopard 2 tanks came after months hesitation, as Germany was wary of provoking a reaction from Moscow.

Both Finland and Sweden possess Leopard 2 battle tanks.

However, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told Suomi radio on Sunday that her government had yet to reach a decision on the matter. She noted that Finland's 1,300 kilometer (808 mile) border with Russia must be taken into account when considering the shipment of weapons to Ukraine.

Sweden also gave no definitive answer. While Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson entertained the possibility of his country supplying Ukraine with fighter jets at some point, he noted that the country's NATO accession was a more urgent matter for the time being.

rmt/rs (AP, dpa, Reuters)