After months of uncertainty and negotiations, Turkey decided this Friday to lift the veto on Finland for its entry into NATO. "We have decided to start the approval process for Finland's accession protocol to NATO in our Parliament," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared on Friday. "NATO will be strengthened by the addition of Finland and I believe that it will play an active role in maintaining world security and stability," he said. The Turkish president pointed out that he will continue diplomatic talks with Sweden and stressed that he is not against the expansion of the Atlantic Alliance.
The announcement came during the visit to Ankara of the Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö, who thanked Erdogan for his gesture, although he regretted that the request from his neighboring country, Sweden, remains frozen. "For Finland this decision is very important. 95% of Parliament said that you have to apply for membership," Niinistö said. "NATO membership is not complete without Sweden. We have so many things in common. We need a 32-member alliance," he added. Erdogan signed his commitment and announced that the Turkish Parliament will ratify his decision in the coming days, although he did not specify a date.
With the approval of Turkey, Finland is advancing in its entry into NATO and it only remains for Hungary to ratify its decision to complete the process. Budapest has delayed the parliamentary vote on several occasions, but after a series of diplomatic trips by high-ranking Finnish and Swedish officials to activate the process, it is expected to give the green light next Monday, March 20.
Turkey vetoed Finland and Sweden over the arms embargo that both countries imposed on Ankara over its military operations in northern Syria. Turkish criticism has focused mainly on Stockholm, for its support for Kurdish politicians whom Turkey considers terrorist groups and a threat to its national security. Amid the diplomatic tug-of-war, Ankara was also using its veto to negotiate with the United States for the sale of F-16 fighter jets, after Washington canceled its sale to Ankara after acquiring Russia's S400 anti-aircraft missile system, incompatible with the Alliance.
After several negotiations, Turkey reached an agreement in June, in which Finland and Sweden promised a series of measures in exchange for lifting the veto. Both candidates lifted the arms embargo in September, moving one step closer to the bid, but relations between Stockholm and Ankara showed no signs of improving. Turkey insisted on the extradition of Kurdish politicians and militants it considers to be terrorists, while massive protests in defense of Kurdish activists took place in Sweden. In a demonstration in the Swedish capital, a Swedish ultra-rightist burned a copy of the Koran in front of the Turkish embassy, triggering harsh criticism and complaints from Ankara.
Erdogan noted during Finland's ratification announcement that Sweden has not complied with the agreement. "Turkey has no negative approach to NATO expansion, but terrorism is a red line for Turkey. We gave Sweden a list of 124 terrorists (for extradition) but they haven't taken any action. What matters is the result," declared the Turkish president.
"Sweden has embraced terrorism. In the streets of Stockholm there are continuous protests by terrorist groups," Erdogan said. "We gave them a list of terrorists and they have not given it to us or they have not been able to. This has not happened in the case of Finland, that is why we have considered them separately," he explained.
Sweden has stressed its intention to continue alongside Finland in the NATO entry process, although in recent weeks and given the possible extension of its veto, it has softened its words. Finland's request is more urgent because it shares a 1,300 km border with Russia. "We do not hide at all that we prefer to be ratified together, to go hand in hand," said Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, adding, "I have always expressed that each NATO country should take its own definitions of ratification and We respect that."
The Turkish Parliament will vote on Finland's entry shortly before closing the chamber before the upcoming presidential and legislative elections on May 14. Turkish officials told the Reuters news agency that the ban on Sweden could be lifted after the election. If ratified, it would meet NATO's goal of admitting Finland and Sweden before the July summit in Lithuania. "My goal," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this month, "is for both Sweden and Finland to become full members of NATO as soon as possible, at least before the Summit of Vilnius".
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