Nato chief: ‘We are making progress’ on Sweden and Finland membership

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that Sweden and Finland joining the alliance is a top priority, with progress being made.

Nato chief: 'We are making progress' on Sweden and Finland membership
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg met Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Stockholm. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Turkey and Hungary are the only Nato members still to ratify the bids of the Nordic nations, which must be accepted by all 30 existing members of the military organisation.

Ankara had suspended negotiations with Sweden and Finland in outrage after protests in January that included the burning of the Quran outside its embassy in Stockholm.

A new round of talks announced by Turkey last month will take place at Nato headquarters in Brussels on Thursday.

Stoltenberg insisted on a visit to Sweden that getting the memberships finalised was “a top priority”.

“We are making progress,” he said at a press conference with the Swedish prime minister.


Stoltenberg said Stockholm “has delivered” on a deal with Turkey inked last year that was meant to pave the way to Nato membership.

“The time has come to finalise the ratification process,” he said.

Two previous rounds of the tri-party Nato talks were attended by foreign ministry officials and focused on a specific list of Turkish demands, which include the expulsion of dozens of mostly Kurdish suspects.

Stoltenberg refused to speculate on the results of the fresh negotiations this week.

Turkey has raised the prospect of accepting Finland without letting Sweden’s application through. Nato officials are sceptical about splitting up the bids, but increasingly accept Helsinki may join first.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has dug in his heels on Sweden as he heads into a close presidential election in which he is trying to energise his nationalist electoral base.

Stoltenberg said that he also expected Hungary’s parliament to complete the process of ratifying the applications “shortly”.

That came as a visiting Hungarian parliamentary delegation said Swedish politicians need to stop spreading “lies” about Budapest and the rule of law.

Budapest is still expected to vote in favour of both countries joining the alliance “in the coming weeks”, the deputy speaker of the Hungarian parliament Csaba Hende told reporters in Stockholm.

Both Finland and Sweden dropped their decades-long policies of military non-alignment and applied to join the alliance last May in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Hungary votes through Sweden’s Nato application

Hungary's parliament on Monday afternoon voted through Sweden's Nato application, clearing the final hurdle before the Nordic country can join the military alliance.

Hungary votes through Sweden's Nato application

With 188 votes in favour and six against, Hungary became the final country to approve Sweden’s Nato application.

“A historic day,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson wrote on X. “The parliaments of all Nato countries have now voted in favour of Sweden’s Nato membership. We stand ready to shoulder our part of the responsibility for Nato’s security.”

The vote came after almost two years of delays that upset Western efforts to show resolve in the face of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Russia’s February 2022 invasion prompted Sweden to apply to join the bloc in May 2022, alongside neighbouring Finland, ending a long-standing stance of non-alignment.

Finland became the 31st member of the US-led defence alliance in April 2023.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán’s nationalist Fidesz party – whose ruling coalition with the Christian Democratic KDNP holds a two-thirds majority in parliament – had already indicated it would support Sweden’s bid.

All opposition parties except the far-right Our Homeland movement were in favour of ratification.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, most Nato members were keen to quickly approve the membership bids of both Finland and Sweden.

Hungary and the other holdout Turkey held up the process, especially for Sweden, but Turkey eventually approved Sweden’s bid last month.

But while Hungary repeatedly said it supported Swedish membership in principle, it kept prolonging the process by asking Sweden to stop “vilifying” the Hungarian government. Budapest also accused Swedish officials of being “keen to bash Hungary” on rule-of-law issues.

After a meeting on Friday between Orbán and his Swedish counterpart Ulf Kristersson in Budapest, the nationalist leader announced progress.

“We have managed to clarify our mutual good intentions,” Orbán told journalists after signing a deal to acquire four Swedish-made fighter jets, expanding its existing fleet of 14 Jas-39 Gripen fighters.

Now that the parliament has approved Sweden’s membership, the final decision needs to be made by Hungary’s interim president, currently László Kövér, who has five days to sign the approval and then send it to the US state department in Washington.

“It’s going to happen quickly,” Zsolt Németh, an MP för the ruling Fidesz party told TT.

Sweden will then be invited to accede to the Washington Treaty and officially become a Nato member.

In the case of Finland, for example, Turkey gave the green light on March 30th, 2023, and Finland became a Nato member on April 4th.