Finland announces ‘historic’ NATO bid, Sweden expected to follow

Sweden is also expected to follow Finland’s application to join the NATO military alliance.

The Finnish government has officially announced its intention to join NATO, as Sweden’s ruling party held a decisive meeting that could pave the way for a joint application to the military alliance.

Less than three months after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Finland’s announcement on Sunday is a stunning reversal of Finland’s policy on military non-alignment dating back more than 75 years.

Sweden, which has been militarily non-aligned for more than two centuries, is expected to follow suit with a similar announcement, possibly on Monday.

“This is a historic day. A new era is opening,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told reporters at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

NATO membership needs to be approved and ratified by all 30 members of the alliance.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed last-minute objections, but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday that Ankara was not opposed to the two countries’ bids.

“Turkey made it clear that its intention is not to block membership,” Stoltenberg told reporters virtually after a NATO alliance foreign ministers meeting in Berlin.

“I am confident we’ll be able to find common ground, consensus on how to move on membership issues,” Stoltenberg said, adding that he was in touch with Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Cavusoglu meanwhile lauded Finland’s conciliatory approach in their talks, but criticised Sweden’s foreign minister for “provocative” statements.

Turkey’s objections, directed in particular at Stockholm, focus on what it considers to be both countries’ leniency towards the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is on the EU’s list of terrorist organisations.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken nonetheless insisted he was “very confident that we will reach consensus” on the two countries’ NATO bids.

Niinisto said he was “prepared to have a new discussion with President Erdogan about the problems he has raised”.

Finland’s parliament will convene to debate the membership proposal on Monday.

Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto speaking
Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto attends a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Berlin, Germany, May 14, 2022 [Michael Sohn/AP]

“We hope the parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership during the coming days. It will be based on a strong mandate,” premier Marin said.

A vast majority of Finnish members of parliament backed the decision after Marin’s Social Democratic Party on Saturday said it was in favour of joining.

“Hopefully, we can send our applications next week together with Sweden,” Marin had said on Saturday.

The two Nordic countries broke their strict neutralities after the end of the Cold War by joining the EU and becoming partners to NATO in the 1990s, solidifying their affiliation with the West.

But the concept of full NATO membership was a non-starter in the countries until the war in Ukraine saw public and political support for joining the alliance soar.