Finnish president in Turkey for Nato talks with Erdoğan

Finland's President, Sauli Niinistö, arrived in Ankara on Friday to receive Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's verdict on his Nordic country's stalled drive to join the NATO defence bloc.

Finnish president in Turkey for Nato talks with Erdoğan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during an Extraordinary Summit of the Heads of State of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS), in Ankara, on March 16, 2023. PHOTO: Adem Altan/AFP

Finland and its neighbour Sweden ended decades of military non-alignment and decided to join the US-led defence alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Their applications were accepted at a June NATO summit that signalled the Western world’s desire to stand up to Russia in the face of Europe’s gravest conflict since World War II.

But that summit was only a statement of intent. The bids still needed to be ratified by all 30 of the alliance members’
parliaments — a process that got hung up once it reached the turn of Turkey and Hungary.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Erdoğan are scheduled to hold talks and have a working dinner before meeting reporters later Friday.

“We will do our part, we will keep the promise we gave,” Erdogan said when asked about Finland’s application this week.

The Turkish leader has accused the Nordic neighbours of breaking the terms of a separate deal they reached in June 2022 under which Turkey agreed to approve the bids.

Turkey has sought the extradition of dozens of Kurdish and other suspects it accuses of ties to outlawed militants and a failed 2016 coup attempt.

Erdoğan’s demands became more urgent as he neared a May election in which he will need a strong turnout from his nationalist supporters to extend his two-decade rule.

The Turkish leader voiced particular displeasure with Sweden — a country with a larger Kurdish diaspora and a longer history of disputes with Ankara. Erdoğan announced in January that he was happy with the progress Finland was making and was ready to put its ratification before parliament.

NATO had hoped to formally welcome both countries at another summit planned for July in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

Swedish delay

Finland and Sweden had initially resisted the idea of breaking up their bids. But Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson acknowledged on Tuesday that the likelihood of Finland joining NATO on its own had “increased”.

Finnish President Niinistö then said on Wednesday that he had been invited to Turkey by Erdoğan to personally “receive the answer when they announce the decision” on NATO.

Analysts agree that Erdoğan is all but certain to announce that he will put Finland’s ratification before parliament.

“The big question is whether this will happen before or after Turkey’s own elections,” Finnish Institute of International Affairs research fellow Henri Vanhanen told AFP.

Turkey’s parliament is expected to close about one month before the May 14 vote.

“I would be inclined to believe that it is possible that it will happen before the Turkish elections,” Vanhanen said. “Of course, it is quite clear that presidential visits of this level are not usually organised unless there is some concrete progress expected or made.”

The talks in Ankara put more pressure on Hungary’s parliament to end its own ratification delays. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban enjoys a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has numerous disputes with both NATO and the European Union.

The Hungarian parliament began debating the two NATO bids at the beginning of the month. But Orban’s ruling party said on Tuesday it will not be sitting next week because of a breakdown of separate negotiations with Brussels over EU funding.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Sweden’s parliament votes by huge majority in favour of Nato accession

Sweden's parliament has voted to ratify the country's accession to the Nato defence alliance, with its historic bill to end two centuries of non-alignment passing with a margin of 269 to 37.

Sweden’s parliament votes by huge majority in favour of Nato accession

During the six-hour debate over the bill, Sweden’s foreign minister, Tobias Billström, said he was convinced that the country’s membership would be ratified by Turkey and Hungary, the two hold-outs in the 30-member alliance, before the summit due to be held in Vilnius in the second week of July. 

“It is obvious that we are going to be able to be members at Vilnius,” he said during the debate, pointing to the backing of the other 28 member states and strong support from the US. “The strength that we have behind us is so tangible that it’s possible to come to such a judgement.”

If Sweden were not to be a member before the summer, he continued, it would put Nato’s open-door policy, a key part of its framework, in question. 

Only two of the eight parties in the Swedish parliament voted against the bill, the Left Party and the Green Party, with their MPs providing all of the 37 “no” votes. A further 43 MPs were absent. 

“It is problematic to join a military alliance with countries which are not democratic, and where we see daily that democracy is withering,” said Håkan Svenneling, the Left Party’s foreign policy spokesperson. “They are now trying to use our application to silence our voice on democracy and human rights.” 

The two parties were also critical of the fact that Sweden was now joining an alliance backed by nuclear weapons. 

“The Nato nuclear alliance is built on the idea of using nuclear weapons as a method of deterrence,” said the Green Party’s Jacob Risberg. “The Green Party do not believe in that doctrine, but believe quite the contrary, that this could lead to more conflict.” 

The Social Democrat’s foreign policy spokesperson Morgan Johansson said he was confident that Sweden would not be made to host nuclear weapons on its territory, even though its agreement with Nato contains no formal statement ruling this out. 

The government’s Nato proposition states that “there is no reason to have nuclear weapons or permanent bases on Swedish territory in peacetime”. 

“I feel completely confident in the test which has been drawn up. There is nothing at all pushing for Sweden to be forced to host bases or nuclear weapons,” he said.