Riigikogu in two sittings Wednesday on Finnish, Swedish NATO ratification

The Riigikogu's main chamber.
The Riigikogu's main chamber. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Riigikogu is pausing its summer recess to convene on an extraordinary basis today, Wednesday, in order to debate ratifying the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO.

Wednesday was earmarked for the process last week, though only confirmed after the signing of accession protocols in Brussels, which happened on Tuesday, July 5, leaving all 30 member states to have to unanimously ratify both countries' membership.

The development is one thing that the Reform Party's leader, and the country's prime minister, Kaja Kallas, can agree with on with the Center Party leader, Jüri Ratas, who is also Riigikogu speaker and convened the special sitting.

Kallas said Tuesday that Estonia is expected to be one of the fastest of the member states in terms of its ratification process.

She said: "I already confirmed to my Finnish and Swedish colleagues in the spring that they don't have a better friend in NATO than Estonia," Kallas said.

Should Finland and Sweden's applications both be ratified, the Baltic Sea would in effect be transformed into NATO's "lake", with virtually all its coastline lying on NATO member states' territory; the exception being the Russian Federation, which has outlets to the Baltic in the Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg regions as well as the largest single Baltic fleet of any of the countries.

As such Finnish and Swedish membership is a huge boost to Estonian security, while the prime minister noted that the applications from the countries, historically neutral in recent decades and even centuries in Sweden's case, to join the alliance, is an historic turning point. 

Kallas said: "Soon, NATO will include the entire Nordic and Baltic region. This will strengthen the defense of the whole region and the whole alliance. Only half a year ago, Russia demanded the closure of NATO's doors via ultimata, but NATO is more united than ever, and I hope that soon there will be two capable allies making it much stronger."

Estonia's permanent representative to NATO, former defense minister Jüri Luik, signed the accession protocols in Brussels on Tuesday, together with his counterparts from the 29 other member states.

The cabinet then held an extraordinary sitting, where it proposed the Riigikogu convene on Wednesday to discuss ratification.

The Riigikogu will hold two sittings on Wednesday: The first, starting at 12.00 noon, comprises the first reading of the bill to approve the accession. The sitting will last until its agenda is finished, after which there will be a two-hour recess before the start of the second sitting (the Riigikogu's foreign affairs committee will convene an hour after the end of the first sitting).

Again, the second sitting lasts until its agenda is exhausted; it is not unheard of for Riigikogu sittings to last to midnight and beyond, though no likely time-frame for the sitting has been mentioned – the sitting itself also includes the second reading of the accession bill. Bills normally require a third reading before being sent to President Alar Karis for his assent, assuming they pass at the 101-seat chamber, and are then enshrined in law.

Other countries' ratification processes vary; for instance in the U.S., a two-thirds majority is required at the Senate, while in some other countries the executive, rather than the legislature, is responsible for the ratification process, while Belgium reportedly has the ratification process with the most stages and levels.

Finland and Sweden submitted their formal applications on the same day, May 18, following weeks of speculation on whether they would be joining, in the wake of the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, by Russian forces.

One fly in the ointment so far has been Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has demanded that both countries change their domestic legislation to make the extradition of suspected terrorists easier, particularly those involved in Kurdish groups and for whom both countries have been a safe haven, Erdogan says.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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