Finland has cleared the last significant hurdle in its bid to join Nato after Turkey’s parliament approved the Nordic country’s accession to the western military alliance.
The General Assembly, controlled by a coalition led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development party, voted just before midnight on Thursday to ratify the move, making Turkey the last of the 30 Nato countries to back Finland’s membership. Neighbouring Sweden is still waiting for both Turkey and Hungary to approve its Nato bid.
The Nato enlargement comes at a time when relations between Russia and the west have reached their lowest ebb in decades in the wake of President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale war in Ukraine.
Finland shares a 1,340km border with Russia, something that will give the western alliance a more significant foothold in the region and provide Helsinki with the additional security of belonging to a club that counts the US and Europe’s leading military powers as members.
Several procedural steps are still needed before Finland can become Nato’s 31st member, but officials in Helsinki expect them to be completed early next month.
Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, on Twitter welcomed the Turkish vote in favour of Finland joining. “This will make the whole Nato family stronger & safer,” he wrote.
Sweden’s accession to Nato is far more uncertain. Erdoğan, who is in the middle of a tricky presidential campaign, is under growing pressure from Nato allies to approve Sweden’s membership. Many western officials believe he will delay his decision until the alliance’s summit in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, in July.
Ankara has lobbied Sweden to hand over dozens of people it deems to be terrorists in return for its support. But Sweden argues it can do no more to meet Turkey’s demands. Stockholm has already signalled a change to its anti-terrorist legislation that will come into force at the start of June. A Nordic official said the concession “offers Erdoğan a chance to claim a victory, if he wants”.
Hungary, which last week approved Finland’s accession bid, has thus far also declined to support Sweden’s attempt to join Nato, in what diplomats see as an attempt to win concessions in Budapest’s fight to unlock EU funds.
Washington and European capitals had hoped that Finland and Sweden would join Nato together, but they are now pushing Ankara and Budapest to back Stockholm’s bid amid growing concerns over regional security. Tensions escalated on Thursday as Russia made its first arrest of a foreign journalist since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at a press conference in London on Wednesday, Pål Jonson, Swedish defence minister, said he was “glad that Finland is joining Nato” and stressed that Sweden’s relationship with Nato was stronger than it had ever been — although if it did not join soon it would make defence planning with Finland and other Nordic countries harder.
Jonson added that he was respectful of Turkey and Hungary’s sovereign decisions, and that he had no “indication” that the two countries were acting in concert.
Speaking at the same event held by the UK’s Ministry of Defence, Ben Wallace, British defence secretary, said he was optimistic Ankara would approve Sweden’s accession in time for July’s Nato summit, two months after Turkey’s general election, which had put a “pause on the process”.
“In my discussions . . . with both my Turkish defence counterpart and other leaders in the Turkish security apparatus, I think there’s a genuine recognition of how far Sweden has moved on areas like the PKK [and] tackling terrorism,” he said.
Wallace added: “Whether it’s this week, this month, or next year, I think Sweden will be in Nato.”