Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan
Murat Cetinmuhurdar | Reuters
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday approved Finland’s accession to NATO after months of talks, but added that discussions with Sweden will continue.
“We have decided to initiate the ratification of Finland’s accession process to NATO in our parliament,” Erdogan said in Ankara, according to a Reuters translation, as he met his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto.
Erdogan added that he hoped the Turkish parliament would endorse Finland’s bid before the country’s May 14 elections.
In May, Finland and Sweden sent applications to join the military alliance. They decided to put an end to their policies of neutrality and military non-alignment in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But the process to join NATO has not been as smooth as some had expected, particularly with Ankara demanding more security reassurances from Sweden.
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As of 2022, NATO has expanded to let in three former Soviet states and all of the former Warsaw Pact countries.
Bryn Bache | CNBC
Friday’s announcement paves the way for Finland to become a member of NATO in the coming months. Hungary is the only other member that has yet to approve Helsinki’s membership out of the 30 NATO nations, although the ruling party in Hungary said Friday it would back Finland at a March 27 vote.
Friday’s developments leave Stockholm a bit behind in the process.
Turkey’s opposition to Sweden’s NATO membership centers around what, it says, is their harboring of militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
In January, far-right demonstrators burned a Quran and chanted anti-Muslim slogans in front of Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm, Sweden. Ankara immediately denounced the act, as well as Sweden’s granting of a permit to the right-wing group to hold the demonstration.
During a NATO meeting in Madrid in June 2022, Sweden, Finland and Turkey signed an agreement outlining a path to a compromise, with Ankara calling for further anti-terrorism guarantees. Speaking to CNBC in February, Sweden’s Foreign Affairs Minister Tobias Billström said his country had done its part to fulfil the agreement.
“This is just a matter of time,” he said about joining the alliance, adding he expects his nation to be a full member by July.
Former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb played down concerns about Sweden being left behind.
“Both Finland and Sweden will become Nato members at the latest at the summit in July. The situation is stable. We are already de facto members,” he said on Twitter.
—CNBC’s Natasha Turak contributed to this report.