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President Niinistö on state visit to Sweden: Nordic nations are "responsible, strong and stable"

Public interest in Finland's politics has never been higher in Sweden, according to specialists on Finnish-Swedish relations.

Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf (right) paid Finland a state visit in 2015 where he met with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö (left). Image: EPA/All Over Press

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö has praised the joint Nordic model for being "responsible, strong and stable" during an official state visit to Sweden alongside his wife Jenni Haukio.

"The Nordic Countries are strong in every meaning of the word. Our military strength is among the most advanced in Europe and our capabilities complement each other. The threshold for any military action against us is already very high," Niinistö said during his Swedish-language speech to the Parliament in Stockholm on Tuesday afternoon.

"But strength is not generated by force alone. It also requires resilience. And that is something our Nordic Countries are famous for," he added.

The visit began at 11am on Tuesday, when the Swedish royal family welcomed the presidential couple in a ceremony outside the Royal Palace in Stockholm.

Niinistö's visit comes at a crucial time, as Finland and Sweden are expected to jointly submit their Nato applications on either Tuesday or Wednesday— possibly during the Finnish President's visit.

Mikko Majander, a researcher at Magma, a think-tank specialising in Finnish-Swedish relations, predicted that many Swedes will be out on the streets in Stockholm to greet Finland's president, as Niinistö's popularity has risen considerably this spring in Sweden.

"There is no reason to go as far as to say that this is a type of personal worship, but there is a possibility that the meeting between the heads of state will give a symbolic boost to public opinion," Majander said.

He further noted that public opinion has been an important force in both Finland and Sweden leading to the two Nordic nations deciding to apply for Nato membership.

King Carl XVI Gustaf has no role in Sweden's Nato application process and the state visit is, above all else, ceremonial.

Niinistö's agenda will include a naval base visit with Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces Micael Bydén, discussing security and defence policy with Prince Carl Philip, and an official meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

"Given the timing of this meeting, it will have extra symbolism," Majander emphasised.

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Last state visit 10 years ago

The last time Niinistö paid a state visit to neighbouring Sweden was 10 years ago, at the beginning of his first term in April 2012.

According to Majander, it is logical that state visits come at the beginning and end of the presidency. He believed that even without the backdrop of both countries' Nato applications, the state visit would still have been planned, given that Niinistö's second term ends in 2024.

Although heads of state often meet in various contexts, the state visit has a special significance going beyond day-to-day politics and defence cooperation.

"The state visit has a spiritual dimension of how truly equal neighbours feel a deep sense of belonging and want to show this, not only through decisions, but also in a way that touches emotions," Majander said.

Finnish fever in Sweden?

Finland and its politics have never been more at the forefront of Sweden's public discussion, according to Majander.

He added that Niinistö's New Year's speech kickstarted Swedish interest in Finnish politics. In his speech, Niinistö highlighted Finland's Nato option and the fact that Russia had questioned the sovereignty of Finland and Sweden.

Until then, the general assumption was that Finland's Nato position was predicated on what Sweden chose to do. However, Finland's path towards Nato has also paved the way for Sweden's decision.

Last week, the Swedish tabloid Expressen published an editorial in Finnish titled "Thank you for Nato assistance- big brother Finland." Daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter also praised Finland for its courage and coolness.

Majander said that he believes the Finnish hype will subside in Sweden as the Nato process progresses and he does not believe that the image of Finland, which "pressured" Nato membership on its neighbour, would survive in Sweden.

"It is clear in Sweden that Finland is applying to Nato regardless of what Sweden does," Majander stated.