Swedish PM rejects referendum on possible NATO membership

"I don't think it is an issue that is suitable for a referendum," Magdalena Andersson said.

By Johan Ahlander, Reuters - April 29, 2022
Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson speaks during a news conference with Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Stockholm, Sweden on April 13, 2022. (Paul Wennerholm / TT News Agency via Reuters)

STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s government does not plan to hold a referendum if its parliament decides to proceed with an application for NATO membership, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Friday.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced both Sweden and Finland to review long held beliefs that military neutrality is the best means of ensuring national security, with both countries expected to make a decision in the coming few weeks.

Andersson said that a referendum was a “bad idea.”

“I don’t think it is an issue that is suitable for a referendum,” she told reporters.

“There is a lot of information about national security that is confidential, so there are important issues in such a referendum that cannot be discussed and important facts that cannot be put on the table.”

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Sweden’s parliament is reviewing security policy with a report expected in mid-May. Separately, Andersson’s own party, the Social Democrats, are looking at whether to drop their objections to NATO membership.

With a majority in parliament backing membership, the ruling Social Democrats are seen as the biggest hurdle to Sweden applying to join the 30-nation alliance.

The leader of the Moderates, the biggest opposition party, has also rejected calls for a referendum on the issue.

“Voters … are not naive about Russia,” Ulf Kristersson told daily Aftonbladet earlier this week in a debate with Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar. “It’s very clear that Swedish voters have understood what happened on 24 February and have drawn their conclusions.”

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Dadgostar, whose party opposes NATO membership, told Aftonbladet that Swedes should get a say in the decision.

“This .. has to go back to the voters, there has to be very strong democratic support in this question,” she said.

Sweden holds a general election in September.

An opinion poll by Demoskop in daily Aftonbladet published on April 20 showed 57 percent of Swedes in favor of joining NATO, up from 51 percent in March.