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‘Increased chance that Finland joins NATO before Sweden’: PM

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said on Tuesday the likelihood that Finland would join NATO before Sweden had "increased" as Stockholm's bid continues to face stiff opposition from Ankara.

'Increased chance that Finland joins NATO before Sweden': PM
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Oscar Stenström, Sweden's chief negotiator on Nato, hold a press conference in Stockholm on Tuesday. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Kristersson told reporters it had become increasingly clear in recent weeks that Turkey was ready to ratify Finland’s bid, but still had reservations about Sweden’s, meaning it could ratify Finland’s first.

“We have no confirmation that will be the case, but we think that the overall assessment after many conversations recently is that the likelihood of this has increased,” Kristersson said at a press conference.

Both countries have said they hope to be members by the NATO summit in Vilnius in July.

Finland and Sweden dropped their decades-long policies of military non-alignment and applied to join the alliance last May in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO members still to ratify their bids, which must be accepted by all 30 existing members of the military organisation.

The Nordic countries coordinated their applications and up until this point NATO members have ratified both bids together.

Ankara suspended negotiations with Sweden in outrage after protests in January that included a Koran burning outside Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm, but the talks resumed in Brussels on March 9.

Turkey has opposed the bids, accusing Sweden in particular of providing a safe haven for what it considers “terrorists”, especially members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Among other things, pro-Kurdish demonstrations in Sweden, where PKK flags have been common, have been a thorn in Ankara’s side.

“Turkey still doesn’t think we are all the way there, and that was clearly laid out at the meeting,” chief Swedish negotiator Oscar Stenstrom said at the same press conference, adding that Ankara had not expressed the same “displeasure” toward Finland.

Meanwhile, Budapest is expected to vote in favour of both countries joining the alliance “in the coming weeks”, the deputy speaker of the Hungarian parliament Csaba Hende said last week.

Kristersson also said he was confident that Sweden would eventually become a member of NATO.

“This isn’t about if Sweden becomes a NATO member, but exactly when Sweden becomes a NATO member,” he said.

He also stressed that with the security guarantees extended to Sweden during its application process, the country was “safer now than before we applied,” and this would also be the case if Finland joined before Sweden.

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Sweden’s parliament votes by huge majority in favour of Nato accession

Sweden's parliament has voted to ratify the country's accession to the Nato defence alliance, with its historic bill to end two centuries of non-alignment passing with a margin of 269 to 37.

Sweden’s parliament votes by huge majority in favour of Nato accession

During the six-hour debate over the bill, Sweden’s foreign minister, Tobias Billström, said he was convinced that the country’s membership would be ratified by Turkey and Hungary, the two hold-outs in the 30-member alliance, before the summit due to be held in Vilnius in the second week of July. 

“It is obvious that we are going to be able to be members at Vilnius,” he said during the debate, pointing to the backing of the other 28 member states and strong support from the US. “The strength that we have behind us is so tangible that it’s possible to come to such a judgement.”

If Sweden were not to be a member before the summer, he continued, it would put Nato’s open-door policy, a key part of its framework, in question. 

Only two of the eight parties in the Swedish parliament voted against the bill, the Left Party and the Green Party, with their MPs providing all of the 37 “no” votes. A further 43 MPs were absent. 

“It is problematic to join a military alliance with countries which are not democratic, and where we see daily that democracy is withering,” said Håkan Svenneling, the Left Party’s foreign policy spokesperson. “They are now trying to use our application to silence our voice on democracy and human rights.” 

The two parties were also critical of the fact that Sweden was now joining an alliance backed by nuclear weapons. 

“The Nato nuclear alliance is built on the idea of using nuclear weapons as a method of deterrence,” said the Green Party’s Jacob Risberg. “The Green Party do not believe in that doctrine, but believe quite the contrary, that this could lead to more conflict.” 

The Social Democrat’s foreign policy spokesperson Morgan Johansson said he was confident that Sweden would not be made to host nuclear weapons on its territory, even though its agreement with Nato contains no formal statement ruling this out. 

The government’s Nato proposition states that “there is no reason to have nuclear weapons or permanent bases on Swedish territory in peacetime”. 

“I feel completely confident in the test which has been drawn up. There is nothing at all pushing for Sweden to be forced to host bases or nuclear weapons,” he said.