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Scholz confident Sweden's NATO membership 'will now progress very quickly'

DW - South Africa logo DW - South Africa 2022/08/16
Scholz and Andersson both referred to their past cooperation as finance ministers, with Andersson saying these skills might come in useful in the top job in the coming months © Provided by DW - South Africa Scholz and Andersson both referred to their past cooperation as finance ministers, with Andersson saying these skills might come in useful in the top job in the coming months

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday that he expected rapid progress on Finland and Sweden's NATO accession bids.

Asked in Sweden whether he expected continued resistance from Turkey on Stockholm's bid to join NATO, Scholz said "I have great confidence that it will now progress very quickly."

He said he expected every NATO member still to ratify the Nordic countries' bids "to do so soon, including Turkey."

"In Finland and Sweden, we are gaining two valued allies, who will strengthen NATO's defensive capabilities and therefore our collective security," Scholz said in Stockholm alongside the country's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.

Sweden and Finland, both neutral throughout the Cold War, applied to join NATO in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Turkey had resisted the bid, arguing that the two countries harbored what it considers "terrorists" from Turkey, usually referring either to Kurds or to allies of Fethullah Gulen, an opponent of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Sweden's Andersson said her government would stick to the terms of the memorandum of understanding signed with Turkey on the issue. She gave the example of a man extradited to Turkey on suspicion of fraud last week, saying the decision was made "according to Swedish and international law, and we will continue to work that way."

War in Ukraine prompted 'historic decisions' in Sweden, Germany

Scholz said that Russia's invasion had shown that the rules of the past decades appeared to have been thrown out of the window. He even used the German phrase that roughly translates as "epochal change" (Zeitenwende) that he also used when announcing an overhaul to German defense policy soon after the invasion.

"We can no longer be certain that what applied in previous decades — that borders should not be redrawn by violence and that one doesn't try to attack one's neighbor to take some of its territory — still applies," Scholz said.

He said he was looking forward to Sweden and Finland entering NATO, saying "we need them," adding that he believed this would make already "close and trusting" bilateral ties even closer.

Andersson said that in "dark times" for Ukraine and Europe, "European cooperation and unity is our strongest asset."

She went on to praise rapid decisions such as EU sanctions and to note that for Sweden and Germany — both largely pacifist since 1945 — electing to provide Ukraine with weapons had not been a trivial decision. Germany, in particular, faced criticism for its perceived sluggishness on this issue as one of the world's major arms exporters.

"The unity European countries showed in response to this war was important and was impressive. We very quickly decided on sanctions against Russia, unprecedented in their scope and size," Andersson said. "And both our countries and other European countries made historic decisions, such as electing to send military support to Ukraine and bolster our own defenses."

Former finance ministers' skills could soon be back in demand

Both leaders made repeated reference to their strong past working relationship, dating back to the time when they were both their countries' finance ministers.

Andersson even quipped that it was "no bad thing" for two former finance ministers to be leading the German and Swedish governments at the moment, when mentioning how the pair had been discussing the economic impact of the war and other related factors.

"Energy supply and uncertainty has led to rising prices, and we haven't experienced that in the last decades, and that is having an effect on the economy in Europe and globally too," Andersson said.

Scholz's government on Monday faced calls for more spending and relief measures as a 2.4 cent per kilowatt hour levy on gas for consumers was announced to handle rising costs. Both Sweden and German are running year-on-year inflation well over 7%, figures neither country has experienced in decades.

Andersson warned that while consumers were currently feeling the pinch and needed relief, in some cases because of phenomena which economists hope will prove transitory, it was also important for governments to act responsibly and think longer-term when deciding how to try to limit the impact of rising costs of living.

Both leaders also said that the gas delivery issues brought about by the war had served as a further reminder of the need for Europe to limit its dependence on fossil fuels.

To that end, they were set to leave to inspect a Scania facility south of Stockholm, operating as part of a bilateral partnership, that is working on building viable electric heavy goods vehicles. To oversimplify, the heavier a vehicle is, the harder it is to power it using electricity, meaning HGVs are still seen as the toughest e-mobility nut to crack on public roads. The other notorious difficulty, range, is also of crucial importance to the freight industry in a way it is not for most road users.

msh/aw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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