ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's parliament approved a bill on Thursday 30 March 2023 to allow Finland to join NATO, clearing the way for the country to become part of the Western defence alliance as war rages in Ukraine.
The Turkish parliament was the last among the 30 members of the alliance to ratify Finland's membership after Hungary's legislature approved a similar bill earlier this week.
President Tayyip Erdogan said earlier in March that Finland had secured Turkey's blessing after taking concrete steps to keep promises to crack down on groups seen by Ankara as terrorists and to free up defence exports.
Finland and Sweden asked to join NATO last year in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But the process has been held up by Turkey and Hungary. The parliaments of all NATO members must ratify newcomers.
"NATO membership will strengthen Finland's security and improve stability and security in the Baltic Sea region and Northern Europe," the Finnish government said in a statement following the Turkish parliament vote.
Turkey is still holding off approving the membership bid of Finland's neighbour Sweden, which Ankara says has not gone far enough in cracking down on people Turkey considers terrorists. The three countries signed a pact on the issue last year.
The Turkish parliament's foreign affairs commission had unanimously approved the Finland bill last week. The Turkish legislative process was happening as it prepares for parliamentary and presidential elections on 14 May 2023.
Finland's membership would represent the first enlargement since North Macedonia joined the alliance in 2020.
Turkey has repeatedly said that Sweden needed to take additional steps against supporters of Kurdish militants and members of the network Ankara holds responsible for a 2016 coup attempt. Turkey treats both groups as terrorist organisations.
Talks between Sweden and Turkey have made little progress, especially following several disputes mainly over street protests by pro-Kurdish groups in Stockholm.
The US State Department said it welcomed Turkey's ratification for Finland and encouraged it to quickly ratify Sweden's accession as well.
"Sweden and Finland are both strong, capable partners that share NATO's values and will strengthen the Alliance and contribute to European security," a department spokesperson said.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, soon after the Turkish vote, said: "Finland stands with Sweden now and in the future and supports its application".
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said he had urged Turkey and Hungary to ratify both applications. A vote on Sweden's bid has not yet been scheduled in Hungary.
The United States and other NATO countries are hoping that the two Nordic countries become members of the alliance at a NATO summit due to be held in 11 July 2023 in Lithuania's capital Vilnius.
The Turkish parliament's ratification of Finland's NATO membership is set to be approved by President Tayyip Erdogan and then published in the country's Official Gazette.
Finland has already completed the legal ratification process for its own part, in anticipation of its upcoming parliamentary election on Sunday 2 April 2023 and a corresponding electoral recess which could have otherwise postponed the process by some months.
Having completed the ratification process, both Turkey and Hungary need to send their approving documents to the US government in Washington, which is the depository of NATO under the alliance's founding treaty.
Stoltenberg will then formally invite Finland to join NATO.
As a final step, Finland will deliver its "instrument of accession", a document signed by its foreign minister, with the US government, the Finnish government said.
When Finland's instrument of accession document reaches the US State Department, the Nordic country will formally become a NATO member.