Sweden and Finland to complete Nato membership in ‘months’

Nato chief bullish on swift ratification process though Turkish opposition still threatens

Finland and Sweden are set to be fully-fledged members of Nato within “months”, its secretary general said on Tuesday, as member states signed an accession document in a key step forward in its expansion in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Adding the Nordic states to the military alliance requires ratification by each of its 30 member states. The last time a state joined Nato the process took a year, but the alliance’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg estimated that this time the ratification should take “months”.

“I welcome the fact that many allies have already started and announced they will do this [more] quickly than normal because they see the importance of a quick accession process,” Mr Stoltenberg told a press conference with the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers. “This is the fastest accession process in Nato’s history so far because there are only seven weeks since the accession the applications were submitted to Nato.”

The chairman of the Estonian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Marko Mihkelson, said the parliament was ready to convene to ratify Sweden and Finland’s membership as soon as Wednesday.

However, there is still a risk the process could be delayed by the Turkish parliament. Turkey lifted its veto on accession after the three states signed an understanding at a Nato summit in Madrid last week, in which Sweden and Finland agreed to work more closely together to combat terrorism and affirmed they had no embargo on arms sales to Turkey.

Ankara had accused Helsinki and Stockholm of aiding Kurdish militant groups. Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that Turkey would hold Sweden and Finland to the agreement to allow the accession process to go through. “They have to comply with this document. If they don’t then we won’t allow them to join Nato,” he told local television NTV.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed after the agreement was signed that Sweden had promised to extradite 73 people he described as “terrorists”, and Turkish local pro-government press published a list of names of those sought.

But Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde denied on Tuesday that any list of people to be extradited had been discussed in the negotiations with Turkey. Her government would increase co-operation with Turkey, she told journalists, but any requests for extradition would go through the courts according to Swedish law.

“As you can see there is no mention of any lists or any numbers in the memorandum, and during our negotiations in Madrid there was also no mentioning of any numbers or specific lists,” Ms Linde said. “In the memorandum we assured Turkey we will take the fight against terrorism seriously, and all the requests for extradition will go the normal way.”

Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto added: “We follow totally our authorities’ process and legal process, and also our courts’ decisions on this.”

Several Nato member states have offered Finland and Sweden security assurances while their membership is pending, and Nato has increased exercises in the region. The signing of the accession protocol means they now have the status of Nato “invitees”, and will participate in the alliance’s discussions.

The application to join Nato came about after the invasion of Ukraine caused a sea change in public opinion about security in the two states close to Russia’s border. It increases the military presence of Nato in the strategically important Baltic Sea, and has brought about a closer overlap of the Nato alliance and membership of the European Union, with Austria, Cyprus, Ireland and Malta the remaining EU members not in Nato.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times