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Turkey's Erdogan paves way to ratify Finland NATO accession

March 17, 2023

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will support Finland's bid to join NATO and ask parliament to vote on ratifying its accession, which should prove a formality. He's still holding out on Sweden, though.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked parliament to vote on Finland's NATO bidImage: Alo Eren Kaya/AFP

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey would start the process of ratifying Finland's NATO membership bid in parliament, saying that the country had taken "sincere and concrete steps" to allay Turkey's concerns about Finland hosting Kurds and other opposition forces who fled Turkey.

The breakthrough came as Finnish President Sauli Niinisto was in Ankara to meet with Erdogan and 10 months after both Finland and Sweden applied to become NATO members in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, having remained neutral throughout the Cold War.

"We have decided to start the protocol of Finland's accession to NATO in our parliament," Erdogan said following talks with his visiting Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that he welcomed the decision "to move ahead with the ratification of Finland’s membership in NATO," addng, "This will strengthen Finland’s security, it will strengthen Sweden’s security." 

The White House urged Turkey to ratify Sweden's bid in swift order.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement, "Sweden and Finland are both strong, capable partners that share NATO’s values and will strengthen the Alliance and contribute to European security."

"The United States believes that both countries should become members of NATO as soon as possible," he added.

Finland welcomes Turkey's plans

Niinisto welcomed Turkey's plan to start the process of ratifying Finland's NATO membership. "We understood earlier on that you have done your decision and signing it today confirms that the Turkish parliament starts to work with ratification of Finnish membership," Niinisto said.

With Erdogan's agreement, Finland's application can now go to the Turkish parliament, where the president's party and its allies hold a majority. Ratification is expected before Turkey holds its presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 14. 

NATO requires the unanimous approval of the legislatures of its 30 existing members to expand, and Turkey and Hungary are the only two countries yet to do this for Sweden and Finland.

Meanwhile, Mate Kocsis, the leader of the ruling Fidesz party's parliamentary group, said that Hungary's legislature will vote on the ratification of Finland's NATO accession on March 27 and the majority ruling party bloc will unanimously support the bid.

Discussions with Sweden to continue

In a news conference, Erdogan also said Turkey would continue discussions with Sweden on terrorism-related issues and that Sweden's NATO membership bid would depend directly on measures taken.

Sweden's NATO membership will depend on their response to Turkish demands, including repatriation of 120 "terrorists," Erdogan said.

Sweden said it regrets that Turkey has not opted to ratify Finland and Sweden's NATO membership at once. Sweden's foreign mnister Tobias Billstrom said that it was a questoin of when not if his country joins the trans-Atlantic military alliance.

"This is a development that we did not want, but that we were prepared for," Billstrom said.

Turkey's government accuses Sweden of being too soft on groups that it deems to be terror organizations, including Kurdish groups, and has said it has fewer problems with Finland. Two Swedish protests late last year, in particular, prompted Turkey to dig its heels in further. One involved Kurdish activists using an effigy of Erdogan, and another involved far-right protesters burning copies of the Quran

NATO chief welcomes Turkey move

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hailed Turkey's decision to push ahead with ratifying Finland's membership, and said Sweden should also be allowed to join "as soon as possible."

"The most important thing is that both Finland and Sweden become full members of NATO quickly, not whether they join at exactly the same time," Stoltenberg said.

He also added that Helsinki's membership "will strengthen Finland's security, it will strengthen Sweden's security, and it will strengthen NATO's security."

dh/msh (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)