Finland hopes for Erdogan’s magic words on Nato membership bid

Good morning. Yesterday Brussels unveiled its much-vaunted initiative to boost the EU’s green technology industries; and then those very same industries said it would fail without more money to back it up.

Today, Finland’s president is in Turkey where our Nordics correspondent says his host could well deliver good news on Helsinki’s Nato membership bid. And our man in the Balkans has a dose of brutal realism for those hoping a Serbia-Kosovo meet tomorrow could yield a major breakthrough in their efforts to normalise their relations.

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When two become one?

The long and awkward dance to get Turkey to agree to Nato membership for Finland should finally reach its denouement today — but Sweden will be left standing awkwardly looking for a partner, writes Richard Milne.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has summoned his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö to give him the news in person, presumably telling him that Turkey’s parliament will ratify Nato membership for Helsinki before it breaks next month for elections.

Context: Finland and Sweden both applied for Nato membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It needs unanimous backing of existing members. All but Turkey and Hungary have ratified. Turkey has held up both bids, seeking concessions especially from Sweden regarding long-held ties with various Kurdish groups, which Ankara considers terrorists.

The ultra-serious Finns, well aware from their history of what Russia can do to its neighbours, may scarcely believe that other countries have sought to gain national advantage at such a delicate time for their security.

Still, the smoke signals for Turkey giving the nod to Finland but not to Sweden have intensified in recent days. Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson said on Tuesday the chances of Helsinki going first had increased markedly. Then, Niinistö got his invite to Turkey, stopping off in the earthquake-hit south-east of the country yesterday.

That is typical of the classy way Niinistö and other Finnish officials have conducted themselves throughout, standing out for their professionalism against the rather slapdash nature of the Swedes, who were caught by surprise at Turkish anger at Stockholm’s long-held ties with the Kurdish groups.

Swedish and Nato officials believe that Stockholm will still join by Nato’s July summit in Vilnius. But expect “another round in the bazaar” as one official terms it, as Sweden tries to soften Turkish opposition.

And there is still the joker of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, who has repeatedly delayed his country’s ratification of both Finland and Sweden, possibly to try to gain leverage in his discussions over EU funds. A vote in Budapest is due by the end of this month.

Chart du jour: Choking on fumes

Germany’s last-minute blockade of a previously agreed EU combustion engine ban has prompted a rethink in other European capitals on other green reforms, which could threaten the EU’s climate ambitions.

Overcoming the divide

Pressure is growing on Serbia and Kosovo to adopt a plan to normalise relations, as their leaders meet for another EU-moderated summit in the Balkan resort town of Ohrid tomorrow, writes Marton Dunai.

Context: Belgrade and Pristina have fought over the sovereignty of Kosovo ever since the 1990s break-up of Yugoslavia. Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority demands recognition and independence, but Serbia, and a vocal Serb minority in Kosovo, claim a historical unity.

After a recent flare-up of tensions, a Europe-US diplomatic offensive got Serbia and Kosovo to each take a step back and consider an EU proposal.

But don’t expect a breakthrough over the weekend.

Though the plan was technically agreed with the EU last month, it has not been signed, and the divide about the fine print still runs as deep as Lake Ohrid.

The agreement foresees no Serbian resistance to Kosovo’s membership “in any international organisation” (Pristina demands UN membership); and assurances for “self-management for the Serbian community in Kosovo” (Belgrade wants to set up an association of Serb majority municipalities, a sort of mini-government).

A similar version was on the table last autumn, with a deadline to accept it by March 2023. But Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić has said he will never allow Kosovo to join the UN. And the Pristina Constitutional Court has shut down the Serb municipal administration proposal.

EU and US officials descended on the Balkans this week to massage the delegations. Top US envoy Gabriel Escobar told a press conference in Belgrade that a formal deal was “possible” — not in March but sometime this year.

So tomorrow, Kosovo premier Albin Kurti — who once spent time in the jails of Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milošević — will sit down again to try to hash things out with Vučić — who was Milošević’s propaganda minister at that time.

Yes, the divide runs deep.

What to watch today

  1. EU-North Macedonia association council in Skopje

  2. German chancellor Olaf Scholz travels to Japan.

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