Finnish parliament backs Nato membership bid

Chamber overwhelmingly approves plan to join alliance in wake of war in Ukraine

Finnish president Sauli Niinistö has insisted that the accession of Sweden and Finland to Nato will enhance security for them and other alliance members, "without detriment to anyone".

After a 14-hour debate with 212 speeches, Finnish MPs on Tuesday approved the membership decision by 188 in favour to eight against. Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde said it felt "momentous" to sign a letter of application on Tuesday, after a two-hour Swedish parliamentary debate on Monday.

As the final political pieces of their joint Nato application fell into place, Finnish president Sauli Niinistö praised the Nordic region as “responsible, strong and stable... in every meaning of the word”.

"Our military strength is among the most advanced in Europe and our capabilities complement each other. The threshold for any military action against us is already very high," said Mr Niinistö in the Riksdag parliament, opening a two-day visit to Sweden. "But strength is not generated by force alone. It also requires resilience, and that is something for which our Nordic countries are famous."

He said Russia's invasion of February 24th did not change geography – Finland would remain Russia's neighbour – but it had created a new political reality where leaders in Helsinki and Sweden had realised "it is wiser to act than to hesitate".

Finland and Sweden's parallel applications will be filed formally later this week in Nato's Brussels headquarters, beginning the ratification process among all 30 existing Nato members.

On Thursday, Mr Niinistö travels to Washington with Swedish prime minister Magdalena Andersson to meet US president Joe Biden. On Tuesday, leading European alliance members lined up to welcome the decisions, with chancellor Olaf Scholz praising "two valued partners who will strengthen the alliance".

“We will advocate for a speedy accession,” he added.

Finland and Sweden's accession to Nato would close the last non-aligned gap in northern Europe's Baltic Sea region and transform Finland's 1,300km border with Russia into Nato's eastern wall.

‘Not much difference’

After previous warnings of counter-measures, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the formal membership applications from Stockholm and Finland made "not much difference" given both were regular partners in Nato exercises and missions.

“Let’s see how their territory is used in practice in the North Atlantic alliance,” he said, echoing Russian president Vladimir Putin’s remark on Monday that he had “no problem” with their accession.

Swedish MP Hakan Svenneling, of the opposition Left Party opposed to Nato membership, said he was "sad to see the end of non-alignment which has served us well for 200 years".

He said he agreed with the Finnish president, who told Swedish MPs that “even Putin saw it isn’t good to have too many enemies”.

"But now we can see with Turkey that the accession process may not be that simple after all," said Mr Svenneling.

As the new Nato reality began to set in, Swedish alliance critic Pierre Schori criticised a debate he said had felt "less about being convinced and more like being run over".

“We have had a forced decision with uncertain, potentially serious consequences,” he added.