Sweden’s Social Democrats to decide on Nato membership on May 15th

Social Democrat press secretary Tobias Baudin confirmed in a press conference on Monday morning that the party will make an official decision on whether to join Nato or not on Sunday May 15th.

Sweden's Social Democrats to decide on Nato membership on May 15th
Social Democrat press secretary Tobias Baudin in a press conference on May 9th. Photo: Lars Schröder/TT

“We’ve come to the conclusion that we will make a decision on our security policy on the 15th May,” Baudin said.

Previously, the party has said it might make a decision on Nato on Sunday, but now Baudin has confirmed that it will definitely do so.
A decision in favour of joining would in all likelihood pave the way for Sweden to submit an application for Nato membership.
If the Social Democrats support joining, there would be a clear parliamentary majority for an application, especially if Finland – where a decision is also expected in the coming days – were also to submit an application.
On May 12th, Finland’s president Sauli Niinistö will make a statement on his view on Finland joining the alliance, and on May 14th, the Social Democrats in Finland – Finland’s ruling party – will hold a party meeting to decide whether Finland should submit an application.

On May 17th, Niinistö will make a state visit to Stockholm.

This is one of the reasons behind the timing for the Swedish Social Democrats’ comment on Nato, Baudin says.

“There are advantages of keeping up the same pace as our neighbours and close allies,” he said. “It’s better to make a decision on Sunday than wait another week or so. We can make a well-founded decision on Sunday”.

Baudin said to public broadcaster SVT on how party districts felt towards Nato membership that “it’s not as if they’ve ticked ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It’s more weighing up both sides of the decision and sending their comments,” he said.

“I understand that many are focusing on the question of Nato, but there are other questions which also need attention, not least foreign policy,” Baudin continued.

“The shared decision is that the majority think it’s good if we can make a decision on Sunday. Waiting one or two weeks won’t actually change anything. Party leadership will have a well-founded proposal for a decision on Sunday when they meet,” he continued.

Sweden and Finland have been militarily non-aligned for decades, but public opinion in both countries has shifted following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with support for membership soaring, according to polls.

Sweden’s centre-left Social Democrats, led by Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, has historically opposed NATO membership, and even reaffirmed this stance at the last party congress in November.

But the conflict in Ukraine has reignited debate in the country and within the party.

Both Sweden and Finland have close ties with the alliance, joining the Partnership for Peace Program in 1994 and regularly taking part in exercises with NATO countries and NATO-led peacekeeping missions.

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Hopes fade for Sweden’s swift Nato accession

Finland and Sweden are to discuss their stalled Nato bids with Turkey in Brussels on Monday, but hopes are fading they will be able resolve their dispute before an alliance summit next week, experts say.

Hopes fade for Sweden's swift Nato accession

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was to meet with representatives from the three countries to try to make progress on the Nordic nations’ membership applications, which have been blocked by Turkey.

“I think it is possible but it would be very difficult,” Paul Levin, director of the Institute for Turkey Studies at Stockholm University, told AFP, adding it would require both parties to compromise.

Nato and the two Nordic countries had expected the application process to be quick. But Turkey’s objections caught them all off-guard, at a time when Nato is keen to display a unified front against Russia.

Turkey has accused Finland and Sweden of providing a safe haven for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a “terrorist” group by Turkey and its Western allies.

Turkey has also demanded they lift their weapons freezes on Turkey. Any Nato membership deal must be unanimously approved by all 30 members of the alliance, and fears are now mounting that Turkey could delay the Nordic countries’ bids indefinitely.

Kurdish quandary

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin recently expressed fears that unless the issues are resolved “before Madrid, there is a risk that the situation will freeze”.

On Monday, Germany dampened hopes of a deal being reached that quickly.

“I think this is about expectations management and to place this in its historical context,” said a high-ranking German government source, while stressing a solution was still in sight.

“It would not be a catastrophe if we need a few more weeks,” the source said. “What is crucial is that in our view there are no insurmountable difficulties” between Sweden, Finland and Turkey.

Turkey’s anger has primarily been directed at Sweden.

“Sweden does view the PKK as a terrorist organisation and has done so since 1984”, Levin said, adding that it was “arguably the first country apart from Turkey” to do so.

“So in that sense Sweden does not really stand out” from other European countries.

However, Sweden has expressed support for the YPG, a US-backed Syrian Kurdish group, and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Turkey views the YPG, which fought against the Islamic State group in Syria with Western support, as the PKK’s Syria offshoot.

In a bid to ease Turkey’s concerns, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has stressed that Sweden has been beefing up its anti-terror laws in recent years, with new stricter legislation coming into force on July 1.

Sweden has also said that its independent weapons export agency would be prepared to review its policy once the country was a Nato member. Levin noted that one area where Sweden does stand out in Europe is that it is “generally more sympathetic to the broader Kurdish cause”.

The Scandinavian country is home to around 100,000 Kurds, which Levin described as “influential” and “successful in mobilising”.

“In that sense, maybe Turkey is right to put the spotlight on Sweden”, Levin said.

Sweden’s hands tied

Sweden’s government is also being squeezed on the home front, with its hands tied by an independent MP with Kurdish roots.

Amineh Kakabaveh is a former Left Party member of Iranian-Kurdish origin sitting in parliament as an independent since 2019.

In November, she provided the deciding vote to bring the Social Democrats into power — in exchange for deeper cooperation with the PYD.

Kakabaveh has threatened to vote against the government’s budget proposal this week if Sweden agrees to sell arms to Turkey.

The Swedish government’s two sets of negotiations with Kakabaveh and Turkey “are very difficult to reconcile”, Levin noted. If not resolved before then, Sweden’s parliamentary elections in September could end the deadlock with Turkey.

Kakabaveh is not expected to be re-elected to parliament, which would enable the government to negotiate more freely with Turkey.

“It really looks like the Swedish government is trying to step away from this agreement with Kakabaveh in order to be able to have this discussion with Turkey,” Levin said.

At the same time, an early election in Turkey has also sailed up as a possibility, which could “change things up and make it possible to come to some kind of solution”, he noted.