Finland has been non-aligned for decades and shares a border of around 1,300 kilometers with Russia. For a long time, joining the military alliance was considered unthinkable – after all, the Finns didn’t want to alienate their big neighbor to the east. But Moscow’s war of aggression against Ukraine led to a rethink among politicians and the population.
The decision was preceded by an intensive social debate and comprehensive political consultations. Both Niinistö and Marin recently campaigned to join the military alliance. It was only on Saturday that Marin’s social democratic governing party, the SDP, spoke out in favor of the move. Thus, a majority in parliament for NATO membership is considered secure. According to the latest opinion polls, the majority of the population now also supports the move.
Finland now officially open for membership application
The Finnish head of state announced the decision for the application on Sunday, now it is up to Parliament. Approval is assured.
Decision also expected in Sweden
In Sweden, which has also been non-aligned up to now, the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine triggered a major debate about joining NATO. A decision by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s Social Democrats was expected there on Sunday. Andersson leads a minority government in which only her party participates.
In a phone call to Niinistö on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin described Finland’s planned NATO membership as a mistake. Russia does not pose a threat to the neighboring country, according to the Kremlin, Putin said during the conversation. Finland’s departure from traditional neutrality will lead to a deterioration in the previously good relations. Niinistö and Putin have been said to have a good relationship in the past.
Veto still possible
Finland and Sweden are already close partners of NATO, but not official members. Theoretically, their admission to the military alliance could still be blocked by the veto of one of the member states, which must decide unanimously on admissions. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was critical, accusing Finland and Sweden of offering safe haven to the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party PKK.
The German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) was irritated by the statements from Ankara. In her view, any democratic country should be pleased if democracies with strong defense capabilities made the common alliance stronger. At an informal NATO meeting in Berlin, the foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland, Pekka Haavisto and Ann Linde, also attended as guests.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated his country’s reservations in Berlin, but also said that Turkey always stands for an “open-door policy”. Haavisto said: “I am sure that we will find a solution to this matter.” It was later said that Turkey was demanding security guarantees for Sweden and Finland’s acceptance into NATO. In addition, export restrictions would have to be lifted. In addition, both countries should stop supporting terrorism, Cavusoglu said. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed confidence that Turkey would not block accession.
“No hanging party”
On the fringes of the informal meeting, Baerbock emphasized that Germany would ratify the accession of Finland and Sweden “very, very quickly”. Other countries had also sent out corresponding signals. According to Baerbock, accession should not become a “hanging game”.
The governments in Helsinki and Stockholm are concerned about the security situation in their countries in the period between the application for membership and the completion of accession. At this stage, the obligation to provide assistance according to Article 5 of the NATO treaty is not yet officially in force. According to Baerbock, ratification must take place as soon as possible. All 30 NATO countries have to agree to the accession of Sweden and Finland, after which the parliaments of the member countries have to ratify the admission.