Finland's Parliament backs Nato membership in vote as Sweden signs application

Turkey is fiercely opposed to the two Nordic nations joining the 30-member alliance

Reservists fire live rounds during defence exercises in south-east Finland. AP
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The Finnish Parliament has overwhelmingly backed the government’s application to join Nato, voting 188-8 to push ahead with the process in tandem with its neighbour Sweden following the invasion of Ukraine.

The move, which represents a shift in Finland's decades-old neutral stance since the Second World War saw MPs in Helsinki back Prime Minister Sanna Marin and President Sauli Niinisto’s view that joining Nato would the best move for Finland’s security. The leadership decided officially on Sunday to apply to join the military alliance.

The vote in the 200-seat Eduskunta legislature was seen a formality as politicians’ approval was not necessarily required.

Finland is now expected to sign a formal application and file it to Nato headquarters in Brussels in the coming days, in the hope of becoming the western alliance’s 31st member. The Nordic country, which shares a 1,340-kilometre border with Russia, is being followed by its neighbour Sweden in pushing for Nato membership.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has voiced opposition to Finland and Sweden joining, a view which threatens to throw a spanner in the works down the line. The second largest member of Nato, has criticised the northern European nations’ hurried attempts to shore up their security by joining the alliance, due to their stance towards the PKK, a Kurdish militant political group.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused both countries of harbouring members of the group, which Ankara considers a terrorist organisation.

“Neither of these countries have a clear, open attitude towards terrorist organisations. How can we trust them?” the Turkish president said on Monday.

Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin talks at the Finnish Parliament on Monday. (AP Photo / Martin Meissner)

Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde on Tuesday formally signed her nation’s application to Nato, a day after the country announced it would seek membership of the alliance.

Ms Linde shared a photo of her signing the document on Tuesday on social media and captioned it: “Just signed a historic indication letter to Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg from the Swedish government.”

“Our Nato application is now formally signed,” she added.

“It feels like we have taken a decision that is the best for Sweden.”

Sweden’s shift brings the country’s 200 years of military non-alignment to an end, while Finland is moving away from its decades-old neutral stance.

Finland fought two wars against Russia during the Second World War and signed away about 10 per cent of its territory. After the violent episodes had concluded, the Nordic nation adopted a policy of military non-alignment.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, on Tuesday expressed hope that Nato members would be able to collectively overcome Turkey’s opposition to admitting Sweden and Finland. He predicted there would be “extremely strong support” among members, while also acknowledging “Turkey has some objections”.

“I hope Nato will be able to overcome them. But from my side and from the side to the Defence Council, a strong support to this membership,” he added.

Christine Lambrecht, Germany's Minister of Defence, said “intensive” talks with Turkey would be needed to overcome roadblocks in Finland and Sweden’s paths to Nato.

“All decisions regarding Nato accession of Sweden and Finland have to be unanimous,” she said. “And that’s why it’s also important that we are now very intensively also in talks with Turkey and that the concerns and the arguments that are put forward there are also taken seriously.”

Ms Lambrecht said if “two such strong EU countries” as Sweden and Finland became part of the alliance it would strengthen the security of all member nations, including Turkey.

“I am firmly convinced that Turkey will also be convinced,” she said.

Francois Bausch, Luxembourg’s Minister of Defence, said “nobody would understand” if the alliance refused to grant membership to Finland and Sweden because, given the values they hold, “they belong inside of Nato and not outside”.

Swedish soldiers take part in a military exercise called 'Cold Response 2022', gathering about 30,000 troops from Nato member countries, plus Finland and Sweden, in Norway. Reuters

Russia's retaliation

Russia on Tuesday announced it was expelling two Finnish embassy staff from, following a similar move by Helsinki. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it summoned Finland's ambassador to Russia and expressed its “strong protest” against the expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Finland in April.

It also accused Finland of taking a “confrontational course” towards Russia, supplying weapons to Ukraine and “covering up the crimes of Ukrainian nationalists” against civilians.

“The Russian side made a decision on the unacceptability of the further stay in the Russian Federation of two staff members of Finland's embassy in Moscow,” the ministry said.

Gasum, Finland’s state-owned energy company, said gas supplies from Russia will be halted because it will not pay for gas in roubles, as the Kremlin has demanded.

The firm said it will take a dispute with Russia’s Gazprom energy giant to arbitration proceedings.

Updated: May 17, 2022, 3:01 PM