April 19. 2024. 8:48

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Swedish parliament approves NATO membership

Lawmakers in the Riksdag voted largely in favour of Sweden joining NATO despite Green and far-left opposition on Wednesday, with Foreign Minister Tobias Billström now saying he expects his country to officially join in July.

After a six-hour-long debate, parliament approved Sweden’s NATO future membership with 269 in favour and 37 against – marking the official end to Sweden’s 200 years of non-alignment in foreign policy. For Sweden to officially join, Turkish and Hungarian approval is still needed.

“It goes without saying that we will be able to join in Vilnius,” said Billström about the NATO summit on 11-12 July in a debate before the vote.

Sweden’s NATO membership has already been ratified by 28 of 30 NATO states, and Sweden has strong support from the US, said the minister. “This strength that we have behind us is so significant that it is possible to make such an assessment,” he added.

If Sweden does not become a member by summer, it would call into question NATO’s open door policy, according to which all countries in Europe that meet NATO’s conditions and contribute to strengthening the defence alliance can become members, the foreign minister said.

It is unclear if and when Turkey will ratify Sweden’s membership as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared earlier in February that he would not accept Sweden’s application if Stockholm does not ban Quran burnings – something the Swedish government has so far refused to do.

Hungary’s parliament, for its part, is expected to vote on Finland’s NATO membership bid on Monday but will hold off on Sweden. Billström said he had received no explanation from Budapest about why it is treating the countries separately.

“If this were to become a reality, I think an explanation from the Hungarian side is required.”, he said.

No from the Left party and the Greens

Of the eight parties in the Swedish parliament, only the Left Party (Vänsterpartiet) and the Green Party (Miljöpartiet) voted against joining the alliance.

“It is problematic to enter into a military alliance with countries that are not democracies and where we see democracy shrinking on a daily basis,” said Håkan Svenneling from the Left party, referring to Turkey and Hungary.

“They are now trying to use our application to silence our voice for democracy and human rights,” said Svenneling, adding that both countries stalling ratification for Sweden is unsurprising.

Swedish NATO membership also increases the risk of being drawn into wars and conflicts that the country has not chosen, he added. “Swedish foreign and security policy should be decided in Sweden, not at NATO headquarters in Brussels, not in Washington by the US President or in Ankara by the Turkish President,” Svenneling declared.

But for Foreign Minister Billström, “NATO membership is the best way to safeguard Sweden’s security” in light of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

However, both opposition parties are also critical of Sweden’s inclusion in the NATO nuclear umbrella.

“NATO is said to be built on using nuclear weapons as a deterrent. Our MPs do not believe in this doctrine and believe, on the contrary, that it can lead to more conflict,” said Green MP Jacob Risberg, adding that “The government has abandoned the view that nuclear weapons make us more insecure.”

Sweden’s NATO application has been submitted without reservations, though the government’s NATO proposal states that there are “no reasons to have nuclear weapons or permanent bases on Swedish territory in peacetime”.

“I feel completely secure with the wording that has now been made. There is no movement anywhere to impose either bases or nuclear weapons on Sweden,” said Morgan Johansson, Social Democrats’ foreign policy spokesperson and former Justice minister when Sweden submitted its NATO application.

If the issue of deploying nuclear weapons in Sweden were to arise, it would have to be raised in Parliament, he added.

“But as long as we Social Democrats have something to say about it, I want to say that we will not go there,” Johansson concluded.

(Charles Szumski | EURACTIV.com)