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Debate in Sweden and Finland: NATO membership as a shield is within reach

Debate in Sweden and Finland: NATO membership as a shield is within reach

At a meeting of the 30 Allied foreign ministers in Brussels on April 6, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg promised Finland and Sweden a quick positive response if they were asked to join. They have worked together for many years and the two countries have met the criteria for a defense alliance. Sweden and Finland are the “closest partners”.

Concerns that Russia might use the time between submitting a potential application and eventual acceptance to attack nations, in Stoltenberg’s view, should not be an argument against accession. “I’m sure we’ll find ways to address their concerns about the time between a potential application and final approval,” he said.

According to the report, Finland is about to apply for membership

According to information from the Finnish newspaper “Iltalhti”, the intention of the government headed by Prime Minister Sanna Marin and President Sauli Niinistö to join NATO is contained in an appendix to the additional foreign and security policy report expected on Thursday by the relevant parliamentary committee.

The Social Democrat Prime Minister Marin said in March that the government would not make any recommendation for or against NATO membership in her report. Instead, Parliament must weigh the pros and cons based on the report, so that at best a national consensus is reached. Recently, the NATO-skeptical Center Party has traditionally spoken out in favor of potential membership in the defense alliance.

APA / Agence France-Presse / Letikova / Jussi Nokari

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin in October 2021

According to the newspaper’s report, the Finnish application could be submitted in the first half of May or even earlier. However, the prerequisite is that the bill obtain a strong majority in Parliament. Niinistö expects a parliamentary majority for his country’s request to join NATO in the near future. Regarding the security situation, Marine said Saturday that a decision will have to be made this spring. The government wants to submit a security policy report before Easter.

Finland wants to coordinate with Sweden

President Niinisto no longer sees the need for a referendum or a formal opinion poll. It is already clear that the majority of the population supports the country’s joining the defense alliance, Niinistö said in an interview with public radio station Yle.

He had a different opinion about this until the end of last year, but that has since changed, according to the Norse head of state. However, Niinistö stressed that it is important that Finland coordinate with Sweden on this issue and that the two countries reach the same conclusion. He has already consulted Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson on several occasions and talks are still pending.

Change of opinion in the population

According to opinion polls in both Finland and Sweden, the majority of the population supports NATO membership. In January, every third Finnish questioned in a Yale University poll said they supported their country’s entry into NATO, and at the beginning of March the number was more than half for the first time.

Historic result, as judged by Finnish radio, which could have far-reaching consequences for defense policy. Until recently, the proportion was only between 24 and 28 percent. After a few weeks, we had a majority of 53 percent, which is quite astonishing,” foreign policy adviser to the opposition Finnish National Coalition party, Henry Vanhanen, told DW. The percentage of Swedes who agree to join NATO has also increased from 32 percent in 2017. to 41 percent today.

Infographic on Finland and Sweden joining NATO

Graphic: ORF.at ; Source: Taloustutkimus/YLE; heresy

Sweden: Accession is not excluded

“I do not rule out joining NATO in any way,” the Swedish prime minister said in an interview with SVT Radio at the end of March. On March 8, Andersen sparked controversy by saying that Sweden’s request to join the military alliance might have a “destabilizing” effect on the situation in Northern Europe. However, subsequent developments in Ukraine and a change of opinion among the population seem to have changed their attitude.

In Sweden, the NATO issue is expected to dominate the summer election campaign as a new parliament is elected in September. Opposition leader Ulf Christerson has already announced that he intends to apply for coalition membership if he wins the election.

Swedish soldiers in NATO training

picturedesk.com/TT News Agency / Anders Wiklund

1,500 Swedish soldiers are taking part in the NATO “Cold Response 22” military exercise.

In the Swedish parliament, a majority appears in favor of the country’s accession to NATO. The leader of the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats, Jimmy Akesson, said in an interview with “Svenska Dagbladet” that he would recommend his party to abandon its opposition to NATO if Finland joined. In this case, the supporters of NATO would have the majority in the Reichstag.

Finnish and Swedish conservatives to join

According to the Euractiv platform, Petteri Orpo, leader of the Finnish National Coalition party, and Swedish opposition leader Kristersson will jointly lead a working group advocating to join. Politicians from NATO member states Norway and Denmark have already announced that they will support the initiative. “Please, dear Finland, lead us to NATO,” the Swedish tabloid put itself in the debate at the beginning of April.

“Our goal is for Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership as soon as possible. Ideally already for the Madrid summit at the end of June. More and more people in Finland hope for a quick and decisive NATO process. For our part, we envision this path For Sweden too,” Orbo wrote on his party’s website. Conservatives in both countries want membership in Finland’s parliamentary elections within a year at the latest.

Finnish soldiers spin a pistol during a military exercise Cold Response 22

APA / AFP / Jonathan Nakstrand

In the cold response exercise, Finland and Sweden had to portray the role of the “enemy” in the raid

Breaking with old traditions

Although Sweden and Finland have already cooperated closely with NATO in the past and participated in joint military exercises, membership would mean a significant break with the previous tradition of neutrality, especially for the Social Democrats, whose strategy so far has been characterized by dialogue with Russia and a policy of détente.

According to Anna Weislander, head of the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm, it is difficult to achieve a parliamentary majority to join. “The parties take very opposing positions on this issue,” Weislander told DW. Although right-wing parties support NATO membership, the Social Democrats, the Greens and the right-wing populist Swedish Democrats oppose it.

Russia threatens to join

According to RIA, Vladimir Jabarov of the Russian House of Lords said recently that Finland’s accession to NATO would be a “strategic mistake”. Finland has developed close relations with Russia, but NATO membership means “it becomes a goal.”

“I think it would be a terrible tragedy for the entire Finnish people,” Jabarov said. It is unlikely, however, that the Finns would “sign themselves up on a map to destroy their country,” he wrote in a comment. According to Russian news agency Interfax, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on March 12 that the two countries’ accession to NATO would have “serious military and political consequences.”

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