Swedish party in U-turn on Nato membership

Sweden's opposition is moving towards a unified front on Nato membership after Centre party bosses announced they would advocate joining the defence alliance on Tuesday.

Swedish party in U-turn on Nato membership
Centre Party leader Annie Lööf. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

While Sweden's ruling Social Democrat-Green coalition remains against joining Nato, support for membership has been growing in Sweden in the past year – largely credited to a rising fear of Russian military activity in the Baltic region.

But the centre-right Alliance opposition has up until now been split on the issue with the largest party – the Moderates – and the Liberals being strongly in favour of Nato and its partners the Centre Party and the Christian Democrats taking a more hesitant stance.

However, in what spells a significant U-turn, Centre Party bosses announced on Tuesday that they would motion their colleagues to advocate membership in the defence organization at the party's next conference.

“We lack the ability to defend ourselves for a longer period of time. At the same time Nato is very clear about the fact that Sweden cannot expect military support if we are not full members of the organization. We can no longer close our eyes to that,” wrote party leader Annie Lööf together with foreign policy and defence spokespeople Kerstin Lundberg and Daniel Bäckström in an opinion piece for the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.

“We fear that false non-alliance risks becoming a security risk rather than offering safety,” they added, referring to Sweden's increased military cooperation with its neighbours despite officially maintaining a semi-neutral position.

READ ALSO: Russia warns of 'risks' should Sweden join Nato

Meanwhile, the Christian Democrats, who have previously opened the door to the possibility of joining Nato, are also set to debate the issue at their party conference in early October.

“We are a relatively small country with a strategically important location in the Baltic Sea region. Our assessment is that we can't go it alone but need to cooperate with others to manage our defence capability and we need to do that as part of Nato,” Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch Thor told the TT newswire on Tuesday.

Sweden's ruling centre-left coalition – the Social Democrats and the Green Party – is historically against Nato membership. However, there have been indications in the past year that the Nordic country is moving closer to joining the defence alliance.

In April Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland announced far-reaching plans to extend their military cooperation. The move was “a direct response to aggressive Russian behaviour”, said Sweden's defence minister Peter Hultqvist and his Nordic counterparts at the time.

Although Sweden is set to invest 10.2 billion kronor into its armed forces in the coming year, the country's defence capabilities have been questioned following increasing military activity from Russia in the Baltic region.

In October 2014, a foreign submarine – suspected to be from Russia, although this was never confirmed – was spotted in Swedish waters just outside Stockholm. A number of Russian planes have also been spotted in or close to Swedish airspace over the past year.

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Sweden’s government: ‘turn down the heating to cut risk of power outages’

Sweden's energy minister Ebba Busch has called on people in the country to reduce their heating by 1˚C and halve their use of hot water in order to reduce electricity demand over the winter.

Sweden's government: 'turn down the heating to cut risk of power outages'

Busch said that with one nuclear reactor at Oskarshamn shutting down for repair for ten days on Friday, one reactor at Ringhals shut down for repair until February and another Ringhals reactor set to be shut down for repair on the weekend, Sweden’s electricity system was entering a tight situation. 

“The risk of a higher electricity price is greater and there’s a greater risk of power cuts in southern Sweden,” she said. 

She then called on citizens to do what they can to help reduce their power risk to increase the resilience in the system. 

“The risk of power outages reduces significantly if we can cut electricity use by two percent, and that’s about how much we can save ourselves just in the housing sector by cutting or reducing by one degree, or halving our use of hot water,” she said. 

“We need to do what we can to flatten the curve. I realise this is tough. We’ve just gone through a difficult, long, drawn out, pandemic when it was essential we all did our part, and now we find ourselves in another crisis where what we do as individuals can make a difference.” 

“I’m very thankful to all the households who have done everything they can over the autumn to reduce electrity use. It has had an effect on the crisis,” she added. 

She said that the government would continue with its national campaign to save electricity, adding that “every kilowatt counts”. 

Before Busch spoke, prime minister Ulf Kristersson warned that the crisis in the electricity system was “relatively acute” 

Lotta Medelius-Bredhe, director general of Svenska Kraftnät, Sweden’s grid operator, said that it was unlikely that there would be any power outages. 

“This is not something which we see as really looming,” she said, but she acknowledged that there would be “extremely high prices”.