Finland debates NATO ratification that may leave Sweden behind
By Anne Kauranen and Essi Lehto
HELSINKI (Reuters) -Finnish parliamentary groups said on Friday they may ratify NATO’s founding treaties in the coming weeks, a key step that could lead the country to proceed with membership of the Western military alliance ahead of neighbouring Sweden.
The two Nordic countries sought NATO membership shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year and have said they want to join “hand in hand”, but while most member-states have ratified the applications, Turkey objects to Sweden’s candidacy.
Facing an April election, most political parties in Finland have said they want parliament to vote on the treaties before its March 3 recess, and the foreign affairs committee on Friday debated required legislation behind closed doors.
Discussions will continue next week, but progress has been made, the head of the foreign relations committee, Jussi Halla-Aho of the True Finns party, told public broadcaster Yle.
“A consensus is forming and I believe there will be agreement,” he said.
Legislation must be submitted by Feb. 20 at the latest if parliament is to vote before the election.
Turkey’s differing view on Finnish and Swedish memberships has put pressure on Finnish leaders to push ahead. A 53% majority of Finns polled on Feb. 2 for daily Ilta-Sanomat said they did not want Finland to wait, while 28% said it should.
The Finnish parliament’s vote could have a signalling impact on Finland taking the next step without Sweden “whether we want it to or not”, the foreign affairs committee chair told Yle.
“There is a clear view in the committee that our joint will is that Finnish and Swedish NATO bids would advance at the same time but it is not a question that is fully in our own hands,” Halla-Aho said.
“Surprising situations can happen where Turkey or Hungary or one of them would decide to only ratify only one of the memberships but not the other and of course even in that situation we need to be ready to react and make decisions.”
If parliament on a later date votes in favour of approving the treaties, as it is widely expected to do, the president must proceed with the application within three months and as soon as all existing NATO members have also ratified Finland’s bid, which could effectively lead to proceeding with NATO membership without Sweden.
For that to happen, Turkey and Hungary need to ratify the Finnish membership first and NATO to officially invite Finland as a member.
Finland’s Chancellor of Justice Tuomas Poysti told Ilta-Sanomat the process would give Finland some room to wait for Sweden if need be, but not endlessly.
A vote by parliament now would minimize risks in the membership process, said foreign policy analyst Matti Pesu at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
“Potentially, this can contribute to a difference in pace between Finland and Sweden,” Pesu said, while adding that it would still be up to Turkey to determine the speed of the process.
Sweden is Finland’s closest defence ally. In case of a conflict with Russia, with which Finland shares a 1,300-km (800-mile) border, NATO would need Swedish territory to help Finland defend itself.
Ankara wants Helsinki and Stockholm in particular to take a tougher line against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terror group by Turkey and the European Union, and another group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen and Essi Lehto; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Christina Fincher)