NATO entry dilemma reaches Finnish Parliament | International

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In the foreground, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland, the environmentalist Pekka Haavisto, and, behind, the Prime Minister, Saana Marin, of the Social Democratic Party, this Wednesday in Parliament, in Helsinki.LEHTIKUVA (via REUTERS)

The worsening of the war in Ukraine has accelerated the debate in Finland about its possible candidacy as a member of the Atlantic Alliance. The “NATO option”, a common euphemism in the speeches of Finnish leaders to refer to an income that would mean abandoning the country’s traditional policy of neutrality, has reached the fragmented Parliament on Wednesday. The Chamber is debating a report from the five-party coalition executive headed by the social democrat prime minister, Saana Marin, which analyzes the country’s defense situation —without making a clear statement in favor of joining the Alliance—, its level of security and its energy or food resources.

If it weren’t for the war in Ukraine, Finnish politics would probably address issues like the strike over layoffs at the huge paper mill Stora Enso or the nurses’ protests. But the dilemma of alignment or non-alignment with NATO has come to life three decades after the end of the Cold War, and as never before, after the Russian invasion on February 24. The highest historical support, 30% of yeses in 2005, has doubled to 59% on April 13: 59%, according to a survey for public television YLE. Only 17% of Finns are against it.

Fear of the eastern neighbor and the 1,340 kilometers of common border that separates Finland from Russia looms over the normally peaceful Finnish political life. Hours before the session began in the Helsinki Chamber, a representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry warned that if Finland and Sweden enter NATO there will be consequences.

Asked about this new threat from Moscow, the Finnish Foreign Minister, the environmentalist Pekka Haavisto, has avoided clearly expressing his preferences, although he has emphasized to EL PAÍS: “Countries are free to join military alliances.” The foreign minister added: “It is obvious that Russia has to make its own military plans accordingly.” And this entails “probably, an increase in your equipment.”

Haavisto points out that the biggest criticisms against the candidacy that he has heard in the debate have been about the money that entry into NATO will mean for the coffers and the extent to which Finland will be responsible for protecting the countries of the Alliance. “Our response from the Government is that you cannot be in a military alliance for just a little bit: either you take on all the responsibilities or you are out,” he concluded.

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“Our situation is more serious and unpredictable than ever since World War II,” admits Social Democrat MP Antti Lindtman. From the podium, the spokesman for the largest formation (40 of the 200 deputies) maintained this Wednesday that “Russia’s actions have brought Finland closer” to the Alliance, but immediately redirected a speech that seemed to announce the yes and objected that, before making a decision, they need to “examine all the options and listen to the experts”. In addition to the traditional respect for what Parliament decides, historical internal dissensions within the Social Democrats, with prominent supporters of no to NATO, underlie that discretion. Only two Social Democrats have publicly set their position, one for yes and one for no, according to a count by the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat last updated this Tuesday.

The legislative scenario seems in principle in favor of yes to the candidacy of the Nordic country. In a highly fragmented Chamber (no party obtained more than 20% of the vote in the last legislative elections, in 2019), 109 representatives have already spoken publicly in favor of the entry and only 12 against it.

However, the decision does not correspond to the Legislative. The position of the president of the country, in general symbolic, reserves high-level executive decisions on Defense and Foreign Affairs, always in consensus with the Government. Thus, at any time, without waiting for Parliament, he could request admission. In an unpredictable war scenario, there is no date for the conclusion of the debate in the Chamber, but several deputies and experts consulted believe that it will be quick and will probably end throughout May.

Divergences in the government parties

In the rest of the coalition formations the situation varies. In the Center Party (30 seats, plus that of the president of the Chamber), around half are in favor and the rest do not know or do not say so. The majority is the support among the 20 deputies of the Green League and the 10 of the liberal Swedish People’s Party. His spokesman, Anders Adlercrentz, is in favor of Finland and Sweden entering hand in hand: “It is not necessary, but it would make entry easier.” He believes that joining NATO will not change the demilitarized status of the mostly Swedish-speaking Aland Islands.

But the biggest stumbling block is between the most leftist formation, The Left Alliance (with 16 seats: nine that have said they are against it and one in favor). This Wednesday, its spokesman, Jussi Saramo, has put on the balance that entry into NATO “puts up a barrier” that makes it difficult to attack it, but at the same time “increases tensions on the border and extends the risk of war to other parts” of the country . The formation advocates restricting some aspects of incorporation, if necessary, and not allowing nuclear weapons to be installed on Finnish soil, in line with what is happening in other Nordic member countries, such as Norway and Denmark.

“I don’t think that leftist and anti-NATO views are going to have any significant impact on decision-making,” says Juho Rahkonen, director of research at the Taoustutkimus Oy poll, which has analyzed social support for the decision. He details that the social group most in favor of income is the upper-middle class, the best educated, with higher incomes and from large urban areas. Workers and residents are less enthusiastic, but still overwhelmingly in favour. By age, there are proportionally fewer students and young people in favor (around 45%) than pensioners and older people (70%).

In addition to the leftists, petitions are also launched from the other end of the parliamentary arch. Among the ranks of the opposition Party of the Finns (former “True Finns”), with 38 deputies, extreme right-wing nationalists, there is a majority of supporters of entry. Its spokesman, Ville Tavio, tells EL PAÍS that his anti-European formation asks that the EU limit its role in “sanctions and the coordination of humanitarian aid]”. “It is NATO that should be Europe’s defense union”, says Ville. The other major opposition party, the center-right National Coalition, also with 38 seats, is clearly in favor of entry.

The Party of the Filandeses have a prominent role in the parliamentary movement of the debate. The report will then have to go to the Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by one of its deputies from the Finns, Jussi Halla-aho. He admits to this newspaper that in the past there have been doubts within him about what position to adopt on NATO, but not anymore. ”[En general en Finlandia] there has been a naive attitude about Russia. It was thought that if she was not threatened she would not attack. But the war in Ukraine shows that this was not the case and NATO is not a threat, ”she maintains hours after the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a new warning against Finland. “The main benefit [de la entrada] is deterrence. Russia cannot win the war, but it can cause great destruction.” The formation of him supports reducing dependence on Russia (it is still importing gas) and increasing nuclear production.

Halla-aho will travel to Stockholm on Thursday to meet with the Swedish Foreign Affairs and Defense parliamentary committees and with the ministers of those branches. Her delegation is made up of thirty parliamentarians, a figure that is almost unheard of in bilateral meetings.

The president and the prime minister are not wet yet

The country’s president, Sauli Niinistö (73 years old), of the conservative-liberals, has not spoken out openly for or against entry, for seeking the center and expanding the political space, explains the professor of Global Policies at the University of Helsinki and active commentator on current political affairs in his country Teivo Teivainen. “[Niinistö] He has always known how to convince those who were against NATO that we were not going to enter with him, and he has also made those who were in favor believe that in his little heart we would, “he says. In a system that boasts light and stenographers, “the population understands [en cambio] that security and defense issues, so securitized, be dealt with in a more technical and reserved way”, he points out.

The prime minister hasn’t gotten wet either. On January 19, a little over a month before the outbreak of the war, Marin described as “quite unlikely” that his country would apply for NATO membership and on March 2 called not to rush into the decision, although he has criticized openly to Russia and the aggression against Ukraine in a country that during decades of the Cold War used euphemisms and blunt speeches so as not to stir up the Soviet giant. Despite that, Marin, 36, has put up a clash against that Finnish wooden tongue. “It is much clearer speaking than the generation to which the president corresponds [tiene 73 años]”, details a parliamentary expert.

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