Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats said Friday the party expects to reach a position, by May 24, on whether the country should apply for NATO membership.
Should the party come out in favour of joining it would mean a clear parliamentary majority backing for a potential application from the country, especially if neighbouring Finland — where a decision is expected within a week — were to apply for membership of the US-led military alliance.
Public opinion in both countries has shifted following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with support for membership soaring.
Sweden’s centre-left Social Democrats, led by Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, has historically opposed NATO membership, and even reaffirmed this stance at the last party congress in November, but the conflict in Ukraine has reignited debate in the Scandinavian country and within the party.
“We now have a security policy dialogue within our party… The dialogue should be completed by May 12 and after that we begin our decision process,” party secretary Tobias Baudin told AFP in a written statement.
Baudin, who has stressed that the final decision ultimately rests with the party’s executive board said the board’s next scheduled meeting is on May 24, which would serve as a deadline for a decision.
“But a decision, whether it means keeping or changing our security policy stance, could come before then,” Baudin said.
A policy reversal for the party, which ruled for an uninterrupted 40 years between the 1930s and 1970s, would be historic and could pave the way for Sweden to apply to join NATO.
Sweden is not a member of NATO and is officially militarily non-aligned, though it is a partner of the alliance. It abandoned its policy of neutrality after the end of the Cold War.
As in neighbouring Finland, support for joining the military alliance has increased sharply following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with several opinion polls for the first time in history showing a majority of Sweden in favour of membership.
A NATO debate is currently underway in neighbouring Finland, where the issue is being mulled by MPs following the publication of a security policy white paper last week.
Many analysts have predicted that Finland will ultimately submit a bid in time for a NATO summit in June.