On Tuesday, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Allies signed the Accession Protocols for Finland and Sweden, moving both countries to the final stages of their applications to join the military alliance.
The signing, which took place at the NATO Headquarters, follows weeks of discussions regarding both countries' bid to join the bloc, which was triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.
“This is truly a historic moment. For Finland, for Sweden, for NATO, and for our shared security," NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, said ahead of the signing ceremony.
"Just over a month ago, Finland and Sweden handed in the official letters of application. This was followed by weeks of intensive discussions," he said, referring to Turkey's initial opposition to their bid to join, which the country dropped following the agreement of a trilateral memorandum.
One more important step forward. ⁰ Today, #NATO Allies signed the Accession Protocols for 🇫🇮 and 🇸🇪. We want to extend a sincere thank you to all Allies.The next step on the road towards membership is the ratification process in all national parliaments. #FinlandNATO pic.twitter.com/lUHKBPkncy — Finland at NATO (@FinMissionNATO) July 5, 2022
The signing of the Accession Protocols marks the start of the ratification process of the protocols by the governments of NATO Member States, meaning all of NATO's current members need to give both countries unanimous support for them to be able to join the alliance.
Last week, Belgium Council of Ministers officially approved a draft bill for Finland and Sweden to join NATO. This process varies per country, with some requiring it to pass by parliamentary vote.
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The alliance's leaders agreed to invite the countries to join NATO last week during the summit in Madrid. Finland, followed by Sweden, officially asked to join the transatlantic alliance in May following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a request which was backed by Belgium at the time.
In the past, the period between the signing of the Accession Protocol and a country joining the bloc has taken years, however, NATO has said that it would fast-track these applications in light of the current context. Once the accession process is finalised, a total of 32 countries will be members of NATO.