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Niinistö to MTV: Personal Nato stance "quite clear" but not yet time to reveal it

The president said he would only announce his own views after a free, thorough debate on the issue in Parliament.

President Sauli Niinistö at a press conference in Porvoo on 10 March 2022. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

In an interview with commercial broadcaster MTV on Wednesday evening, President Sauli Niinistö said that he has reached his own position on possible Finnish Nato membership, but that he does not intend to make it public yet.

"Yes, my position is quite clear. Once Parliament does its own analysis, then it will be time to draw conclusions. This decision is ripening," he said.

In the president's view, a public statement of his position, or that of the five-party government coalition, would limit the ability of others to freely reach their own conclusions.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) has likewise said that she would not announce her own view on Nato yet. Under the Finnish constitution, foreign policy is directed by the president in cooperation with the government.

"The intention is now that the decision-makers in Parliament will be able to look into this themselves on a free playing field. If I or the government were to announce our positions in advance, that would restrict that freedom. Through analysis, I believe that these decision-makers have the ability and desire to reach the solution that is best for Finland," Niinistö said.

Last week, Marin's cabinet decided to draw up a revised white paper on foreign and security policy. It said that the previous report must be updated as Russia's attack on Ukraine has changed Finland's situation.

The new report is to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of Finland's possible Nato membership.

However, the government does not intend to make a direct proposal on Nato membership in one direction or another in the report. Rather, Parliament will discuss Finland's possible membership in the military alliance on the basis of the report.

Surveys suggest that nearly all parties in Parliament, and a majority of Finns, now take a favourable view of applying for Nato, in a dramatic shift from a few months ago.

Does Finland have more choices?

In the interview, Niinistö was asked whether Finland has only two realistic options, i.e. to apply for Nato membership or to intensify cooperation with the US and Sweden, as he suggested last weekend.

"Of course, there is an option of doing nothing. [However,] I think it raises serious doubts that it would be sufficient, at least in the long run," Niinistö replied.

Regarding closer cooperation with Sweden and the US, the president raised the issue of EU defence cooperation and Article 42.7, the mutual defence clause which refers to the obligation of EU member states to assist others who face armed aggression.

Niinistö predicted that there will be a lot of debate about this in Europe in the future, but that it will take time before there is progress on this.

"This option also raises questions about whether it would be sufficient. That is the major concern regarding that option," he said.

"The third [option is] Nato. It's clear that when it comes to sufficiency, there is nothing that is more sufficient," the president said.

Russian officials have again in recent weeks threatened "countermeasures" if Finland and Sweden were to apply for Nato membership. According to Niinistö, despite the cryptic wording, Finland must envisage what the expression might entail.

Finland and Sweden "do not march in lockstep"

Niinistö was asked about applying for possible Nato membership together with Sweden. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said recently that a Swedish Nato application in the current situation would undermine European security.

According to the president, the two countries "do not march in lockstep on the matter," but he emphasised that Andersson has held frequent bilateral talks with Finnish leaders on the issue.

"That reflects the fact that there is plenty of desire and will to keep each other up-to-date. I think there is a desire and a will to strive to reach some kind of common vision. We are not yet out of step in any decisive way," Niinistö observed.