Sweden and Finland reaffirm their intention to join Nato together

Turkish opposition to Swedish membership prompted speculation Finns might go it alone

Sweden and Finland have reaffirmed their intention to join Nato together, after ongoing Turkish opposition to Swedish membership prompted speculation the Finns might go it alone.

Shocked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland and Sweden decided to join the defence alliance last year. Since then they have been working to address concerns from Turkey, in particular over how they deal with people in their countries who Ankara views as terrorists.

“It is in the interest of the entire alliance that we go together,” said Sanna Marin, Finnish prime minister, at a press conference in Stockholm.

Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson told his Finnish colleague: “I really appreciate these clear messages from Finland ... that we willl be doing this together.”


Speculation of a solo Finnish accession has been growing in recent days since Finland’s foreign minister Pekka Haavisto said that, “somewhere in the back of our minds we are considering options in case a country were to face permanent resistance”.

He later reversed his position, though on Wednesday Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that “Sweden should not bother to try at this point, we will not say ‘yes’ to their Nato application”.

Marin insisted on Thursday that Sweden was “not a problem child, but our neighbour”.

Ankara wants Stockholm to crack down on activists close to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and pursue people with suspected links to US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen and a 2016 failed coup.

Tensions have grown in recent weeks after a Danish far-right politician burned a copy of the Koran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.

Responding to Turkish demands that it extradite terror suspects, Stockholm has stressed that the independent Swedish judiciary has the final say in such cases – not politicians.

However Sweden announced tighter powers on Thursday to allow investigators detain and prosecute individuals who support terrorist organisations through financing or other means – even without a link to a concrete terror act.

Nato rules require unanimous support of all 30 members for new accessions; Turkey and Hungary are holding out, though Budapest is expected to approve both bids in the coming weeks.

A poll by Finnish tabloid newspaper Ilta-Sanomat indicated 53 per cent of respondents would be willing for Finland to join Nato without Sweden. Some 28 per cent of Finnish respondents said they would prefer to wait and join together.

Finnish officials do not expect any progress before Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections in May, but hope for movement at the alliance’s July gathering in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Nordic analysts suggest it is most likely that Finland will wait for Sweden – unless the Turkish veto appears indefinite and intractable.

Dr Paul Levin, director of the Institute for Turkish Studies at Stockholm University, said a solo accession by Finland “would be detrimental to Nato, hinder Nato planning and make Sweden less secure”.

“Underlying the problem is a wide gulf between Turkish and Swedish perceptions on the Kurdish issue and fundamental rights,” he said, “but also Erdogan’s need to focus on re-election in May.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin