(CN) — Since early discussions on whether to apply to join NATO last year, Finland and Sweden made it clear from the get-go they would follow each other through the application process.
Their partnership seems as strong as ever, as Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin confirmed that Finland wouldn’t join NATO without its neighbor during a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Thursday.
“Last spring, we started our journey to join NATO. This journey must be done hand-in-hand, just as we started it,” Marin said.
The pledge comes after Finnish officials gave mixed signals over the past few weeks indicating a possibility of joining the military alliance alone due to an ongoing diplomatic crisis between Sweden and Turkey.
Turkey has been lukewarm to the idea of letting the two Nordic countries join the alliance, as it claims that both nations harbor residents with connections to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as PKK, which Turkey, the European Union and the United States have labeled as a terrorist organization.
Despite Sweden’s efforts to extradite alleged PKK members to Turkey, the longtime NATO member turned cold after far-right Danish-Swedish politician Rasmus Paludan publicly burned a Quran in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm last month.
On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated that Sweden should not count on Turkey’s support for its NATO application if destroying the Quran remains legal in the Scandinavian country. Instead, Turkey now favors Finland joining alone.
In order to join the alliance, an applicant country needs approval from all 30 NATO members.
“I don't like that Sweden is portrayed as a 'problem child' in the classroom. That is not the case,” Marin said about the diplomatic situation. “Sweden ticks all the boxes for what is required to become a NATO member. It is in NATO's interest that Sweden and Finland join together because we share the same security situation up here in the north."
The bond between the two countries is being tested after Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat published an opinion poll Thursday showing that 53% of respondents said Finland should not wait for Sweden to join NATO.
Twenty-eight percent of the 1,021 survey participants responded that Finland should only join the alliance together with its neighbor, while 19% had no opinion on the matter.
The survey was brought up at Thursday's press conference, where Marin stood firm on joint inclusion, going against what seems to be the popular opinion in her country.
“I think it is important that we send a common message today. Finland and Sweden applied together and it is in everyone's interest that we join NATO together,” she said.
Kristersson said Finnish frustration about the situation is understandable.
“I fully understand it, so I don't think it's strange that you ventilate it. But I appreciate that Finland wants to go hand-in-hand with Sweden,” the Swedish prime minister said.
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