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Finland and Sweden ‘can count’ on Germany for protection and NATO membership support

BERLIN — Finland and Sweden “can count” on Germany’s support should they decide to join the NATO alliance, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Tuesday, adding that both countries were already benefitting from EU military protection in case of an attack.

Speaking at Schloss Meseberg, the chancellor’s retreat north of Berlin, Scholz said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine violated “all legal agreements and understandings which we had found in Europe in the last decades … and therefore nobody can be sure that the Russian president and the Russian government will not break international law and our agreements by force on another occasion.”

Scholz, who was addressing reporters alongside Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and her Swedish counterpart Magdalena Andersson, said that Germany was “following very closely” the debate in both countries about their potential accession to NATO, and added: “For us it is clear: If these two countries decide that they want to be part of the NATO alliance, then they can count on our support.”

The chancellor stressed that Berlin’s support for Finland and Sweden stretched beyond NATO membership and that Germany and other EU countries would come to their defense in the event of a Russian attack — a defense obligation that derives from a mutual assistance clause in the EU treaties.

“Even in the period before such NATO membership is decided, they can always rely on Germany’s support. As Europeans, we see ourselves obliged to do so anyway,” Scholz said.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has triggered fears in Sweden and Finland that they could be the next target of an attack by Moscow, particularly as neither country is a member of NATO, which has a mutual defense pact at its heart. However, how much the EU could do to defend Sweden or Finland is open to question, given that — unlike NATO — it does not include the military superpower United States, or the United Kingdom, one of the Continent’s few military heavyweights.

Speaking after Scholz, Marin said that “Finland and Sweden are facing important decisions regarding their own security,” and continued: “Russia’s attack on Ukraine has dramatically changed our security environment, and that cannot be undone.”

“We now see more clearly where Russia wants to take us, namely into a world with spheres of influence where the strongest has the last word,” Marin said, adding that “at a time when Russia wants to dictate its decisions to others without any justification, NATO’s open-door policy is more important than ever.”

The Finnish prime minister said that her country had “not yet decided” about NATO membership, and referred to discussions in parliament — an assessment that was reflected by Sweden’s Andersson. “All options are on the table,” the Swedish leader said, pointing out that her government was awaiting the presentation of a security analysis report on May 13 that would serve as the basis of further discussions with lawmakers.

In his remarks, Scholz also reiterated his commitment to constantly raising Germany’s defense spending to at least 2 percent of its economic output, a goal that the chancellor had initially announced in his historic “Zeitenwende” speech in late February.

However, lawmakers from Scholz’s ruling coalition, and also his Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, last week appeared to backtrack on that commitment, causing a storm of protest from the center-right opposition.

In Meseberg, Scholz indicated he hadn’t changed his opinion: “Germany will permanently spend 2 percent of its economic output on defense,” the chancellor said.

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