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EU commissioner: Sweden should not join NATO through a referendum

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said Tuesday that her home country of Sweden should not decide on whether to join NATO via a referendum.

A referendum “would not be my primary choice,” Johansson said in a wide-ranging interview at the POLITICO 28 – Class of 2022 Dinner. “I think that you really need to have a broad consensus of the majority … to have a broad political debate with all stakeholders in society.”

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson earlier this month rejected calls by opposition parties for the country to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine, arguing it would further destabilize Europe. Moscow has warned of “serious military-political consequences” if either Sweden or Finland joins the military alliance.

In a poll conducted earlier this month, the number of Swedes supporting joining NATO outstripped those opposing it for the first time. In Finland, support for joining the alliance has skyrocketed since the Ukraine war began, with one recent poll showing 62 percent in favor of joining.

Johansson also claimed Sweden and Finland would likely make a joint decision on joining the alliance, while emphasizing that such moves should be left to national governments.

While neither Finland nor Sweden is part of NATO, both countries are “enhanced opportunity partners” of the alliance and in 2018 signed a statement pledging to strengthen their defense cooperation.

Johansson praised European countries for agreeing to temporarily give Ukrainian refugees wide-ranging rights within a week of the war in Ukraine beginning, but also admitted that EU home affairs ministers were initially reluctant to act. She also criticized the EU’s approach toward refugees coming from the Middle East in 2015.

“That was really was a failure of the European Union at that time in 2015, so that was really definitely bad,” she said. “I promised myself this would not happen again when I’m responsible.”

The Swedish commissioner also reiterated she was “very worried” about the trafficking of Ukrainian refugees coming into Europe — with more than 3.5 million people fleeing Ukraine in recent weeks.

Johansson also said that legislation aiming to crack down on child sex abuse, which remains controversial as it would force technology companies including Facebook to report cases of abuse to authorities, had been delayed until May due to “workload” issues related to the war in Ukraine. But Johansson said she was “happy [to] fight” to ensure the legislation passes, saying it remained her “highest priority.”

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