Sweden’s NATO debate enters decisive phase – POLITICO

STOCKHOLM – Sweden’s NATO membership debate kicked into high gear on Friday with leaders of the ruling Social Democratic Party meeting to discuss a possible bid to join the military alliance.

The six-hour party executive meeting in Stockholm marked the start of what is expected to be around four weeks of consultation before the Social Democrats make a final decision, which is expected on or around May 24.

More face-to-face meetings of the party leadership are planned, as well as online debates with local party members.

“It is very important and positive that we are gathering for talks like today,” said Environment Minister Annika Strandhäll to journalists on the way to the session in the parliament building. “We also have a dialogue underway in the party to allow members to participate in the discussion,” she said.

The outcome of the Social Democrats’ internal talks is likely to be decisive in deciding whether or not Sweden applies to join NATO, in what would be the country’s biggest foreign policy shift since joining the EU in 1995.

A few years ago, while Sweden’s three centre-right opposition parties balked at joining the Western Defense Alliance – and its central concept of mutual defense – the Social Democrats remained skeptical and blocked any move towards joining.

Social Democrat leaders – from Defense Secretary Peter Hultqvist to Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson – have so far declined to say whether they have changed their minds about Russia’s attack on Ukraine and would now rejoin.

But there are indications that the party’s resistance to such a move is fading.

“There’s clearly a time before and after February 24,” Andersson said called in a speech in which he referred to the date of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

A opinion poll by pollster Novus, published this week, showed 51 percent of the Swedish public’s support for a NATO bid.

to Finland

Developments in Sweden mirror a similar process underway in neighboring Finland, where Social Democrat Prime Minister Sanna Marin is due to officially announce her party’s position on a NATO bid in the coming weeks.

Statements by leading Social Democrats in the Finnish parliament this week indicate that Marin’s party supports a membership bid and that the country could take the step before the summer.

“We in Finland haven’t made a formal decision yet, but it’s already clear that there is a large majority in parliament that wants Finland to join NATO fairly quickly,” said Erkki Tuomioja, a Finnish social democrat and former foreign minister, during a visit to Stockholm this week.

Finland last week released a strategy document detailing the pros and cons of NATO membership, leading to this Calls by Swedish opposition lawmakers for Sweden to speed up.

On Thursday, the Swedish government said a bipartisan report on defense policy – including a discussion on NATO membership – would be released on May 13 instead of May 31.

The Social Democrats’ digital meetings with local members are set to take place on May 9, 10 and 12, while a number of senior party officials, including Foreign Minister Ann Linde and her predecessor Margot Wallström, will deliver speeches for local party groups.

“They were chosen because they are central figures who enjoy respect and credibility in our party, and also because they are familiar with this topic,” said Social Democratic party secretary Tobias Baudin on Friday. Sweden's NATO debate enters decisive phase – POLITICO

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