Finland is voting to join NATO, but Hungary is joining Turkey as an obstacle

Viktor Orbán, Recep Tayyip Erdogan
(Image credit: Mustafa Kamaci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Finland's parliament on Tuesday started debating legislation to finalize the country's bid to join NATO, and lawmakers are expected to approve the bill on Wednesday. After the legislation passes, President Sauli Niinisto will have about three months to sign it, preferably alongside Sweden, and send Finland's instruments of NATO accession to Washington, AFP reports. Finland would then be part of the Western military alliance as soon as all 30 member states ratify its membership, as 28 countries have already done. Only Turkey and Hungary have held off.

Turkey has threatened to block Sweden's accession over Stockholm's perceived tolerance of Kurdish groups Ankara calls terrorists. But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated Monday that Finland will likely get its vote, and probably before Ankara works out its differences with Sweden. Sweden and Finland would prefer to join NATO at the same time, but Finland's vote on Wednesday is an acknowledgment that it may accede separately if Sweden runs into roadblocks.

That leaves Hungary.

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Hungary's parliament is starting debate Wednesday on approving both countries' bids to join NATO, but the final vote isn't expected until the second half of March — and there's no guarantee it will go in Finland or Sweden's favor. "While NATO members are more concerned about the potential of Turkey to stonewall accession for the Nordic countries," Politico reports, "the government of Viktor Orbán has also been dragging its heels on parliamentary approval" and "there are signs of trouble ahead."

Orbán, whose Fidez party controls Hungary's parliament and other levers of power, said last Friday that "while we support Sweden and Finland's accession to NATO in principle, we first need to have some serious discussions." Specifically, he pointed at previous criticism from Sweden and Finland on Hungary's veer toward authoritarianism and away from representative democracy. "How, this argument runs, can anyone want to be our ally in a military system while they're shamelessly spreading lies about Hungary?" Orbán asked.

"Orbán's comments have confirmed fears in Brussels that the Hungarian leader could try to use his leverage over NATO enlargement to extract concessions on rule-of-law issues," Politico reports.

Finland, which shares a 832-mile border with Russia, the longest in the European Union, is eager to finalize NATO membership and plans to do so before April 2 national elections.

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