Niinistö: Nato membership should be decided only by referendum

Finland’s presidential race clicked into full gear yesterday as six of the seven presidential hopefuls took part in a debate organised by the Finnish Business and Policy Forum (Eva).

The presidential debate, which was the first of a series of debates scheduled for this autumn, heated up especially after the candidates were asked to shed light on their position on whether or not Finland should apply for membership in Nato - writes helsinkitimes.fi.

Nils Torvalds, the candidate of the Swedish People’s Party, stressed that policy makers should use their own judgement instead of shunning responsibility by putting the membership up for a referendum. Decision-makers, he said, “have no right to hide behind a referendum”.

“I’m firmly of the opinion that the public’s views are what they are because we’ve been avoiding this discussion,” stated Torvalds, who is the only presidential candidate who is openly in favour of joining Nato.

His views were rejected by both President Sauli Niinistö and Matti Vanhanen, the presidential candidate of the Centre Party.

Vanhanen argued that Finland should join the defence alliance only if it has a clear mandate to do so from the general public. Niinistö, in turn, reminded that the rules of the alliance stipulate that aspiring member states must have the support of the majority of the public and political parties to join the alliance.

“This is so that also the part of the public who disagree can accept the decision because it was the will of the majority,” said Niinistö.

He also said it was “ridiculous” to suggest decision makers would be shunning responsibility by putting the issue up for a referendum.

“Nils, it’s not about shunning responsibility,” he responded to his rival candidate. “It’s a question of whether or not we care about what the general public feel.”

“We should refrain from making decisions on Nato or any other issues that can inflict wounds on a notable part of the public. The Finnish society can’t afford to do that,” explained Niinistö.

Niinistö also pointed out that a working group assigned to mull over the possible membership concluded in its final report that the decision on whether or not to join Nato could be the most momentous decision in the history of Finland.

“If we force through or downplay something like that, what will be left of this united nation?” he asked.

Pekka Haavisto, the presidential candidate of the Green League, said he is personally not in favour ofthe membership and called attention to the risks associated with referendums, such as possible attempts by foreign states to influence the results.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

Photo: Mikko Stig – Lehtikuva

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