Berlin (CNSNews.com) – NATO sees “progress” toward Sweden and Finland’s entry into the alliance although with Turkey still holding out on ratification no conclusion is yet in sight, secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.
He told reporters that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has “agreed to restart the talks and to have a meeting with Finland, Sweden and Turkey at NATO headquarters” in Brussels on Thursday.
“This is a process and I don’t expect the process to be concluded tomorrow, but I am confident that Finland, Sweden will become NATO allies,” he said. “This is a top priority. We are going to continue to integrate Finland Sweden into our alliance.”
Citing what it says are “legitimate security concerns,” Turkey has declined to ratify Sweden’s entry into NATO, pushing Stockholm to extradite a long list of individuals it deems terrorists linked to groups such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkey has raised the prospect of greenlighting Finland’s entry alone at this stage, but Finland says it will only join NATO alongside its Nordic neighbor.
Setting aside long-held neutrality, Sweden and Finland applied to join the transatlantic alliance last year in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
All 30 current allies must ratify the move; all but Turkey and Hungary have done so.
“Denying Sweden and Finland membership in NATO undermines NATO's ability to project unity and strength,” Brian Michael Jenkins, senior advisor to the president of the RAND Corporation wrote in an analysis.
Jenkins argued that Turkey’s concerns about “Kurdish terrorists” are legitimate, since PKK operatives and supporters are active throughout Europe.
“But European courts will prosecute individuals only for specific crimes, not for political causes or peaceful protests.”
“Turkey complicates its own case by defining its foes too broadly, making little distinction between legitimate political activity and political violence,” Jenkins said, adding that Ankara’s “domestic response to Kurdish separatism has often been brutal.”
Meanwhile a vote by Hungary’s parliament on ratifying NATO membership for Sweden has been delayed until a session due to begin on March 20, reportedly due to criticisms by Swedish lawmakers over the state of democracy in Hungary.
Despite the postponement, a delegation of Hungarian lawmakers visiting Sweden gave assurances that parliament will support Sweden’s NATO membership despite the “political disputes.”
“We support Sweden’s NATO membership,” Hungary’s deputy parliamentary speaker, Csaba Hende, told Swedish news agency TT during the visit.
“We made it clear that the Hungarian government, the Hungarian president, the prime minister and most of the Hungarian parliamentarians clearly support Swedish NATO membership,” he said.
At the same time, Hende said that improving relations between Stockholm and Budapest was “necessary.”
“It would be good if in the future, Swedish politicians, members of government, MPs and members of the European Parliament would avoid portraying Hungary in a false light by alluding to an absence of rule of law that is based on clearly untrue facts,” he said.
The E.U. has over recent years expressed concern about Hungarian laws which it says limit judicial independence and press freedom, among other things. The disputes prompted Brussels to freeze 6.5 billion euro ($6.85 billion) in funding in December, pending anti-corruption reforms.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also raised eyebrows for a reluctance to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin directly over the war in Ukraine.
From Sweden, the Hungarian delegation visited Finland, where parliamentary speaker Matti Vanhanen said the visitors had set no conditions for ratifying Finland’s NATO bid.
“They fully acknowledged that Finland meets NATO’s membership criteria and they will process Finland’s NATO membership solely on criteria related to NATO membership,” Vanhanen told reporters.
The Finnish broadcaster YLE quoted Hende as saying that most Hungarian lawmakers support Finland’s admission to NATO, but that it “takes time” to process international agreements.
Despite the Turkish and Hungarian holdups, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström expressed optimism that the end was in sight.
“We assume the ratification will take place shortly,” Billström told TT. “The date that has been talked about is the end of March, and that is what we are aiming for.”