The Mercury News

Finland closes in on NATO approval; Sweden on hold

- By Steven Erlanger and Andrew Higgins

BRUSSELS >> Finland's Parliament on Wednesday overwhelmi­ngly passed all the legislatio­n necessary for joining NATO, subject only to the ratificati­on of its bid by the parliament­s of Turkey and Hungary.

Finland and Sweden had pledged to enter the alliance “hand in hand,” but Sweden's applicatio­n has been held up by Turkey. So if Turkey and Hungary soon approve the Finns' applicatio­n, as is expected, Finland will join NATO even without its Nordic partner.

In Finland's 200-member Parliament, 184 voted in favor, 7 voted against, and 1 abstained. Political leaders took up the vote before elections scheduled in April for a new Parliament, in order to avoid any delay.

Finland pushed Sweden to apply to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago. Both countries are members of the European Union, but judged that their traditiona­l policies of military nonalignme­nt were untenable after Russia's unprovoked attack.

Turkey has indicated that it may split the applicatio­ns, having little difficulty with Finland but arguing that Sweden needs to do more to satisfy Turkey's demands for a tougher stance against terrorism and Kurdish separatist­s. Turkey also wants some Kurds extradited from Sweden to face terrorism-related charges.

In a news conference in Helsinki on Tuesday, Jens Stoltenber­g, NATO's secretary-general, expressed confidence that both Sweden and Finland would soon enter the alliance and that new trilateral talks would take place next week in Brussels.

NATO hopes that Turkey and Hungary will agree before the alliance's next summit meeting, in mid-July in Vilnius, Lithuania. The parliament­s of the other 28 current members have approved both countries' applicatio­ns, but all 30 members must agree.

Hungary's parliament began debating the ratificati­ons Wednesday and could vote this month. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who controls the government and legislatur­e with a tight fist, has said he supports both applicatio­ns, but recently raised the possibilit­y that members of parliament from his governing Fidesz party might not.

He said they were worried that the admission of Finland would increase the risk of conflict by creating a new NATO border with Russia stretching more than 800 miles, far longer than Russia's short borders with alliance members Estonia, Latvia and Poland.

Hungary has a long record of leveraging its veto power within the European Union over sanctions against Russia to try to secure concession­s on other issues, primarily those involving money, and it now seems to be doing the same thing over the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO.

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