Finland is set to join NATO if it gets the last outstanding ratifications for its membership bid, regardless of what progress Sweden has made toward joining the alliance, President Sauli Niinisto said on Wednesday.
Finland’s parliament has moved ahead with a domestic process to ratify the Nordic country’s accession to NATO, raising questions about whether the two countries could be admitted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization at different times. While they both applied to join at the same time, Turkey continues to pose an obstacle to Sweden’s entry while it’s indicated it no longer has a problem with Finland’s membership.
Our parliament will make its decision, and if Turkey and Hungary ratify, we will become members of NATO,” Niinisto said at a joint press conference with Sweden and Norway’s prime ministers. Finnish lawmakers are estimated to vote on the matter Feb. 28.
The comment is the latest signal that Finland is preparing to take the step into the alliance without Sweden, its neighbor and close ally whose membership bid has been held up by Turkish resistance. Niinisto insisted that his statement shouldn’t be seen as Finland leaving its neighbor behind.
“To the extent it is up to us, we will go hand in hand, but Turkey has the ratification in its own hands and we can’t do anything about that,” the president said. “If Turkey and Hungary ratify, and our parliament accepts the legislation, we will become members.”
The Nordic countries’ talks with Turkey will resume within a few weeks, Niinisto said, adding that he’s “optimistic” that both will have become members by the alliance’s mid-July summit in Vilnius. The next attempt to break the deadlock is planned take place at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels.
Lawmakers in Hungary will start debating NATO enlargement on March 1, according to a schedule posted on its website on Wednesday that also sees a vote taking place in the week of March 6. While the eastern European country has made no demands in exchange for the ratification, its timelines have shifted several times.
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson continued to press the case for a simultaneous entry, saying it would be beneficial for defenses.
“It’s well known that we have a very close military relationship outside of NATO and that was one of the reasons why we embarked on this journey together,” Kristersson said at the press conference at Harpsund, southwest of Stockholm. “Things could get complicated if one of the countries remains outside while the other joins — that is just a statement of facts.”