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.


Sweden’s parliament to end 200 years of non-alignment with Nato vote

Sweden's parliament is set to vote on Wednesday to end 200 years of neutrality by accepting Sweden's accession to the Nato defence alliance — although the country will not be able to join until parliaments in Turkey and Hungary ratify the agreement.

Sweden's parliament to end 200 years of non-alignment with Nato vote

The parliament began debating the bill at 9am on Wednesday and the vote is scheduled to take place in the afternoon, with a deadline of 4pm. 

“This is a historic but also a necessary decision to take,” Aron Emilsson, the Sweden Democrat chair of the parliament’s Committee on Defence, said at the start of the debate. “We are leaving 200 years of non-alignment behind us.” 

Six of the country’s eight parliamentary parties back joining the defence alliance, constituting an overwhelming majority of MPs. Only the Left Party and the Green Party are opposed. 

“Nothing will increase Sweden’s ability to defend itself faster than joining the defence alliance,” Emilsson said. 

MPs will vote on accepting Sweden’s accession to the alliance, and also that Sweden should sign up to the latest version of the North Atlantic Treaty which forms the legal basis of the alliance. 

Joining Nato will also require changes to two Swedish laws, the Military Operational Support Act, which governs military cooperation between Sweden and Finland, and the Immunities and Privileges Act, which governs diplomatic immunity. 

“The amendments to the law aim partly to make it easier for Sweden to request support from Nato in the form of military forces, and partly to give Nato, the national representatives and the international staff the immunity and privileges required under the agreement,” the parliament’s foreign affairs committee wrote when submitting the law to parliament.  

Sweden will not actually become a member until all 30 Nato member states have ratified its accession agreement, which so far only 28 have done, with Hungary and Turkey still holding out.

Hungary’s parliament is set to ratify Finland’s membership of Nato next Monday, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday, but not that of Sweden. 

The news came after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week instructed his parliament to approve Finland’s membership, while saying that a vote on Sweden’s would not take place until the country had extradited some of the people on Turkey’s list of wanted people living in Sweden. 

“There is no reason not to push ahead with both countries at the same time and that’s a message I have passed to the Hungarian foreign minister,” Sweden’s foreign minister Tobias Billström told TT after the news from Hungary. “Hungary has on repeated occasions over the past year said that they intend to ratify both Finland and Sweden.”