Turkey has finally approved Finland’s application to join NATO, putting an end to months of delays while also continuing to block Sweden from joining the military alliance.
The Turkish Parliament voted unanimously in favor of Finland’s membership on Thursday, clearing the last hurdle in the accession process.
The vote fulfills Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “promise” to allow Finland in the defense alliance. Turkey was the last NATO member to approve Finland’s accession, although Hungary only did so on Monday.
In a statement after the vote, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said his country is “now ready to join NATO.”
“All 30 NATO members have now ratified Finland’s membership. I want to thank every one of them for their trust and support,” he also said. “Finland will be a strong and capable ally, committed to the security of the Alliance.”
“We look forward to welcoming Sweden to join us as soon as possible,” the Finnish president added.
Jens Stoltenbeg, Secretary General of NATO, said Friday that Finland would formally join the alliance in the “coming days.”
“Finland will bring a lot to our Alliance,” he added.
Although Stoltenberg was optimistic about Sweden’s chances of joining the alliance, tweeting that ratification was “in everyone’s interest” Turkey has not indicated whether it will approve Sweden’s NATO membership.
Finland and Sweden had for decades committed to non-alignment with NATO as a way of avoiding provoking Moscow. However, that changed when the Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine and forced the two Scandinavian countries to re-evaluate their neutral status.
An overwhelming majority of NATO members welcomed their applications, approving them within weeks. But two countries – Turkey and Hungary – began to stall the process.
NATO has an open-door policy, meaning that any country can be invited to join if it expresses an interest, as long as it is able and willing to uphold the principles of the bloc’s founding treaty. However, under the accession rules, any member state can veto a new country from joining.
Erdogan accused Finland and Sweden of housing Kurdish “terrorist organizations,” while Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed they were spreading “outright lies” about his country’s rule of law record.
Turkey and Hungary later softened their stance on Finland’s accession, opening the door to its membership earlier this month. However, they remain opposed to Sweden joining – at least for now.
The Hungarian Parliament voted 182 to six in favor of Finland’s application on Monday. On Wednesday, Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltán Kovács said there was “an ample amount of grievances that need to be addressed” before Sweden’s bid to join NATO would be ratified by the country.
Writing in a blog, Kovács said that relations between the two countries “have been worn down over years,” which he said makes “bridging the gap more challenging.”
“We see the need to clear the air with Sweden in order to proceed,” he added.
Turkey too appears steadfast in its opposition to Sweden’s membership. Erdoğan has previously said Turkey would not approve Sweden’s NATO membership unless the country extradites “terrorists” upon Turkish request. Sweden has made clear this won’t happen and for now, the process is stuck.
Turkey is a powerful NATO member, with the bloc’s second-largest military after the United States. Its location at the southeastern flank of the alliance makes it a strategically important member. It acts as a buffer between the West and a swathe of Middle Eastern nations with a history of political instability, and where Western states have major interests. The fact it joined the alliance in 1952, just three years after its founding, adds to its clout.
However, the country has become a bit of a troublesome member under Erdogan’s leadership.
Erdogan has disagreed with NATO allies on a number of issues, including Syria and Libya, and opposed the appointment of Denmark’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen as head of NATO, until then-US President Barack Obama pledged that one of Rasmussen’s deputies would be a Turk.
But Turkey has also benefited from its membership in the alliance, both in terms of security and political influence.
CNN’s Catherine Nicholls, Mostafa Salem, Yusuf Gezer, Jomana Karadsheh, Isil Sariyuce, Alex Hardie, Nadeen Ebrahim and Abbas Al Lawati contributed reporting.