STOCKHOLM (AP) — In a strong show of unity, the prime ministers of Finland and Sweden on Thursday called for calm amid tensions with Turkey over their applications to become NATO members and reaffirmed their intent to have the two countries join the military alliance at the same time.
A series of recent demonstrations in Sweden, including a Quran-burning, has infuriated the Turkish government, which already had held off approving the Nordic nations’ NATO membership while pressing them to crack down on exiled members of Kurdish groups it considers terrorist organizations.
“I think it’s very important that we send today a clear message: Finland and Sweden applied together, and it’s in everybody’s interest that we will join together in NATO,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said. “And both countries are filling all the boxes when it comes to NATO membership.”
Marin and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson discussed their pending NATO bid during a joint news conference in Stockholm on Thursday. “We embarked on this journey together and we do the journey toward membership together,” Kristersson said.
While pledging continued solidarity, Marin refused to speculate on “how many years Finland should wait” but said she did not like Sweden being described “as a sort of troubled child in the classroom.”
“I don’t think this is the case. Sweden also ticks all the boxes” when it comes to NATO membership,” she said. “Sweden isn’t a troublemaker.”
Last month, a solitary anti-Islam activist burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, while an effigy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was hung outside city hall in the Swedish capital during a separate protest.
Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkey won’t allow Sweden to join NATO as long as the country permits protests desecrating Islam’s holy book to take place. The Turkish leader suggested several days earlier that his country might ratify Finland’s application before taking any action on Sweden’s.
NATO requires unanimous approval from its existing members to admit new ones. Turkey and Hungary are the only allies that haven’t formally endorsed Sweden and Finland’s accession.
“Events and activities in Sweden during the last past weeks have complicated the close and respectful dialogue with Turkey,” Kristersson said at the news conference with Marin. “Individual manifestations carried out by small groups or even of individuals have consequences for how Sweden is perceived abroad.”
In Finland, where no anti-Turkish or anti-Islam demonstrations have taken place recently, violating religious peace is a criminal offense, and desecrating a book held sacred by a religious community would likely violate the law. As a result, police wouldn’t allow a protest that involved burning the Quran.
Marin explained that burning any religious book or any objects in public was forbidden under Finnish law.
A poll published Thursday in Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat asked respondents if they thought Finland should join NATO even if took Sweden longer or if the country should wait for their joint accession. Some 53% said Finland’s membership shouldn’t be tied to the timetable for Sweden.
Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO in May, abandoning decades of military nonalignment in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.