Finland wants to become a member of NATO. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced in Helsinki on Sunday that the country will submit an application to be included in the military alliance. The Finnish parliament still has to approve the step, but a majority is considered safe.
Niinistö spoke several times on Sunday of a “historic day” for the Scandinavian country. “A new era is beginning,” said the President.
Finland has been non-aligned for decades and shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia. Joining the military alliance was long considered unthinkable – after all, the Finns didn’t want to alienate their big neighbor to the east. But Moscow’s war of aggression in Ukraine has 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 step. This means that a majority in parliament for NATO membership is considered certain. According to the latest opinion polls, the majority of the population now also supports the move.
The Russian war of aggression in Ukraine has also sparked a major debate about joining NATO in Sweden, which has also been non-aligned up to now. 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 Niiinistö on Saturday, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin described Finland’s planned NATO membership as a mistake. Russia does not pose a threat to the neighboring country, Putin emphasized during the talks, according to the Kremlin. Finland’s departure from traditional neutrality will lead to a deterioration in the previously good neighborly relations.
Finland and Sweden are already close partners of NATO, but are not official members. Theoretically, their admission to the military alliance could still be blocked by the veto of a member state, 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.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) was irritated by the statements from Ankara at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin. In her view, any democratic country should be pleased if democracies with strong defense capabilities made the common alliance stronger. The foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland, Pekka Haavisto and Ann Linde, also attended the meeting 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.”
Baerbock gave Sweden and Finland the prospect of rapid admission to NATO. Germany would ratify the two countries’ entry into the alliance “very, very quickly,” said Baerbock on the sidelines of informal consultations with her NATO colleagues in Berlin. The federal government has already held talks with all democratic parties.
Numerous other NATO countries have also promised a rapid ratification process, said Baerbock. She emphasized that there should be no “hanging-up” after Sweden and Finland applied for membership.