Stockholm: Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said on Tuesday that the likelihood that Finland joins the NATO military alliance before Sweden had increased, though Swedish membership was only a matter of time.
Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO last year but have faced objections from Turkey, which says the two countries harbour members of what it considers terrorist groups. The countries resumed talks on the process in Brussels last week.
Ankara has been clear it has greater objections to Sweden’s accession than Finland’s, and Kristersson said Turkey’s position in that regard still remained, meaning the two Nordic countries might not join together as they prefer.
“What we have encountered in recent weeks is that the probability of this happening at different times has increased,” Kristersson told a news conference in Stockholm before leaving on a visit to Germany.
“At the end of the day, it is not a matter of whether Sweden becomes a member of NATO, but when.”
At the meeting in Brussels last week, Turkey acknowledged that Sweden and Finland have taken concrete steps to meet Ankara’s concerns and the three countries agreed to hold further meetings as part of the NATO process.
In January, Turkey suspended talks set up as part of a deal agreed in Madrid last year aimed at smoothing Finland and Sweden’s accession process after a far-right politician burned a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, in Stockholm.
Sweden has said it has fulfilled its part of the Madrid memorandum. As part of its efforts to reassure Turkey it is taking its fears over militants seriously, the Swedish parliament is due to pass new anti-terrorism legislation.
Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO countries that have yet to ratify the Nordic countries’ accession and Kristersson said other alliance members were putting pressure on Ankara to speed up ratification.
(Reporting by Niklas Pollard and Johan Ahlander, editing by Terje Solsvik, William Maclean)