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Finland MPs to debate NATO petition in parliament

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Finland foreign minister Pekka Haavisto speaks during a press conference at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels on January 24. AFP

Finland MPs to debate NATO petition in parliament

Finnish MPs will debate how to handle a petition calling for a vote on NATO membership on March 1 as a poll showed a historic change in attitude in the traditionally non-aligned country after Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a Twitter post on the evening of February 28 that a planned debate in parliament the following day would cover the situation in Ukraine and was not intended as a “wider conversation on Finland’s policy regarding military alignment or non-alignment”.

But she added that since a citizen’s petition requesting a parliament debate on a referendum had reached the necessary 50,000 signatories to trigger a debate in parliament, it “makes sense to hear the parties’ views on handling the issue.”

“From this perspective, the issue will also figure in tomorrow’s parliamentary debate,” Marin said.

The petition, which is calling for a referendum on membership, was launched on February 21 and reached the targeted 50,000 by the end of the week.

The debate also comes on the heels of a poll released on February 28 by public broadcaster Yle, showing that most Finnish people now favour joining NATO, a historic change in attitude and a major shift compared to even just a few months ago.

According to the survey, commissioned by public broadcaster Yle, 53 per cent of Finns backed their country joining the military alliance, 28 per cent opposed it, and 19 per cent were unsure.

“A completely historic and exceptional result,” Charly Salonius-Pasternak, senior research fellow at Finnish Institute of International Affairs, said.

“The change is dramatic.”

The poll surveyed 1,382 respondents between the ages of 18 and 80 between February 23 and 25, said Yle.

In contrast, a January poll published by the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper had only 28 per cent in favour and 42 per cent against NATO membership.

“The only significant thing that has changed is that Russia has attacked a neighbouring country that is not a member of NATO,” Salonius-Pasternak said.

Although the results of the latest poll could be an effect of the initial shock at Russia’s offensive, the researcher said he believed support would likely remain at a higher level.

When Yle last commissioned a similar poll in 2017, support for NATO membership was at 34 per cent.

Finland shares a 1,340km border with Russia. While neither it nor neighbouring Sweden are NATO members, both countries are partners of the Western military alliance.

Faced with Moscow’s demands that NATO not expand eastwards, Helsinki and Stockholm have rejected any Russian interference in their security policy.

Both countries have received assurances from NATO that the door remains open to them, though the Social Democrats in power in both countries have no plans to join.

In another response to Russia’s “military action” in Ukraine, Alko, Finland’s state-run alcohol distributor, took vodka and other Russian products off the shelves on February 28.

“The situation in Ukraine is shocking and we have taken it seriously,” said spokesman Anu Koskinen, announcing the suspension of both in-store and online sales.

The measure will affect around 30 Russian products – most of them vodka – from its total stock of 11,000 items.

In neighbouring Sweden, the state-run alcohol monopoly Systembolaget also announced it would stop the sale of Russian products.

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