Swedish Lawmakers Overwhelmingly Back Motion to Join NATO Alliance

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Swedish lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Wednesday in favor of Sweden joining NATO, signing off on the country’s membership along with the required legislation.

The 349-seat parliament approved Sweden’s accession to NATO by a vote of 269 to 37, with 43 MPs absent. This was the last required domestic hurdle for the country to become part of the 30-member Western military alliance.

Six of the eight parties represented in Parliament were in favor of NATO membership, and the vote that followed a seven-hour debate was seen as a formality.

During the deliberations, the Foreign Minister, Tobias Billström, said that “membership in NATO is the best way to protect Sweden’s security”. He called it “a historic event” and “one of the most important security policy decisions ever made for our country.”

Speaking about the timeline for Sweden’s possible accession, Billström told lawmakers during the debate that “it goes without saying that we will be able to become members in Vilnius,” the Lithuanian capital, where the NATO summit will be held in July.

“The support we have is so tangible that I can make this assessment,” he said.

Neighboring Sweden and Finland both applied to join NATO in May 2022, abandoning decades of non-alignment in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Joining the alliance was “about looking in every situation for solutions that provide maximum security for the people of Sweden,” said Morgan Johansson of the Social Democrats – Sweden’s largest party, which has previously opposed NATO membership -. The party was in power when Sweden applied for membership.

Two NATO countries, Turkey and Hungary, have yet to ratify the Nordic applications. Admission of new states requires unanimous approval of existing members.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that his government would go ahead with ratifying Finland’s application, paving the way for the country to join the coalition before Sweden. Erdogan said Sweden still had to resolve Turkish concerns that had delayed action on the joint application.

The Turkish government has accused both Sweden and Finland of being lenient with groups it considers terrorist organizations, but has expressed more reservations about Sweden. The government in Ankara referred to street demonstrations in Stockholm organized by supporters of Kurdish militants.

A series of separate demonstrations in Stockholm, including one by an anti-Islam activist who burned a Quran outside the Turkish embassy, ​​has angered Turkish officials.

“It is difficult to enter into a military alliance with non-democratic countries as we see democracy constantly shrinking,” said Hakan Sveneling of the Left Party, referring to Turkey and Hungary.

His party and the tiny ecological Greens party condemned the Russian invasion but opposed joining NATO, saying it would mean Sweden moved a step closer to either hosting nuclear weapons or being part of an alliance that used such weapons.

The bids from the Nordic neighbors, who are close partners culturally, economically and politically, are historic because Sweden has not been in military conflict for the past 200 years and Finland has remained militarily non-aligned since World War II.

On March 1, Finnish lawmakers also approved Finland – which borders Russia – joining NATO.

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