HELSINKI: Sweden’s prime minister admitted on Tuesday that, due to Turkey’s opposition to the Swedish bid, Finland is likely to join NATO before Sweden does.
During a press conference in Stockholm on Tuesday, Ulf Kristersson said that it is becoming more likely that Finland will enter NATO before Sweden because Finland’s path to membership has been smoother than Sweden’s. This is because of the NATO summit in Madrid in June.
Turkey claims that the two countries, but especially Sweden, are being too lenient toward terrorist organizations and other groups it views as a threat to Turkey’s very existence. Ankara has fewer concerns with Finland joining, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month.
Finland and Sweden have repeatedly emphasized that they will join the military alliance simultaneously, “hand in hand,” since they first announced their intention to do so in May of last year.
For the time being, however, Kristersson has told the press that “it’s not out of the question that Sweden and Finland will be ratified in different stages.”
An addition to NATO requires the consent of all current 30 members. Last year, all of them signed the accession protocols for Finland and Sweden, and this year, 28 of them have ratified the texts for both countries. At the beginning of this month, lawmakers in Hungary began debating the membership applications of the Nordic pair, and it is possible that Budapest will ratify those applications by the end of March, leaving Turkey as the only holdout. There is a statement that further assurances and guarantees from the two countries are being sought.
Swedish government chief negotiator in NATO accession process Oscar Stenström has stated that Stockholm has fulfilled all necessary steps to receive approval from Turkey. To lessen Turkey’s opposition to NATO, Sweden last week presented a bill to parliament that would make it illegal to support or participate in terrorist organizations.
One of Turkey’s main concerns with Sweden and Finland joining NATO is the presence of groups there that Ankara labels as terrorists. Tens of thousands of people have been killed over the course of the PKK’s 38-year insurgency against Turkiye. The United States and the European Union have both labeled it a terrorist group.
The Kurdish diaspora in Sweden is estimated to number around 100,000, while in Finland that number is closer to 15,000.
After a hiatus of several weeks, representatives from Sweden, Finland, and Turkey met at NATO headquarters in Brussels last week to try to clear the way for the Nordic nations to join.
Tuesday, Kristersson said the final decision rests with Turkey and that Sweden is prepared for the possibility of Finland joining NATO without them.
The NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has already stated that this would only result in a delay, and he echoed those sentiments.
After being asked by reporters about Sweden’s potential membership in NATO, Kristersson said, “Basically, this is not about whether Sweden becomes a NATO member, but about when Sweden becomes a NATO member.”