‘If I die it’s my choice’: Finnish soldiers on Ukraine’s front line

This is the story of Hobbit and Mariachi, two Finns who volunteered to fight in Ukraine, where the brutal Russian invasion strikes a chord close to home.

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It’s March 2022. 

Russian forces have besieged the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, shelling it from warships in the Azov Sea. Kremlin troops are still dangerously close to the capital Kyiv, while the first horrific accounts of mass killings are starting to emerge from Bucha. 

As the war unfolded around him, Hobbit arrived in Ukraine. 

“In the beginning, it was all new to me, and I was very nervous. And I was sure after one or two months there wouldn’t be a government left.”

Hobbit – who only uses his callsign not his real name for operational security reasons – is one of the estimated hundred Finns, among hundreds of other foreign fighters, who put their lives on hold to take up arms against the Russian invaders. 

For many people in Finland, the war in Ukraine has echoes of their own country’s not-so-distant past, when a Soviet false-flag operation in November 1939 saw Stalin’s forces shell a border post and blame it on the Finns as a pretext to launch a ground offensive.

Russia’s famed composer Dmitri Shostakovich was commissioned to write new music, which would be played as victorious Soviet troops marched through the streets of Helsinki to install a puppet government – a tale that chimes with reports from the current war that Russian forces had been told to pack their dress uniforms for a victory parade in Kyiv.

At the end of the short 105-day Winter War, Finland had inflicted heavy casualties on the Soviets but was ultimately forced to give up territory and pay reparations. The outcome, and the tens of thousands of internally displaced people who moved from annexed Karelia into Finland proper, makes the modern-day situation in Ukraine seem chillingly familiar to many Finns.  

“To be honest I don’t know how it happened exactly but I was watching the war, and then I started to feel that maybe I should do something, and I was sitting at home enjoying the little things in life like cinnamon buns and IPA beer,” Hobbit tells Euronews. 

“I thought why am I staying at home and enjoying this without any care in the world when 18-year-olds in Ukraine have to go to war without much training: This is the rifle, this is how you shoot, you are good to go. But I have training.” 

Like most Finnish men, Hobbit had served his conscription in the military although he says he didn’t much enjoy it at the time, with too many rules and restrictions.

Whether nine months of basic training really prepared him for war is a different question.

“No training can be the same as war of course. But I had an advantage because the Finnish army has always trained for combat against Russia, so I was taught how to survive. That is also one of the reasons why I felt I should come because we have knowledge to share.”

Hobbit’s family was less sure he should volunteer in Ukraine. “They didn’t like it at all. But in the end we discussed, and I expressed my views. I will be disappointed in myself if I do not go. It’s my life. If I die it’s my choice.” 

It’s September 2022. 

Russia illegally annexes Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhizhia as Vladimir Putin announces a “partial mobilisation” of 300,000 troops to fight in Ukraine. It’s a further sign that things are not going the way the Kremlin planned, and the call-up triggers a mass exodus of military-age Russian men trying to escape conscription. 

Hobbit is on the front line of fighting in the small town of Petropavlivka, near Kupiansk.

Along with another Finnish volunteer, he’s assigned to fire support. 

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“I had a heavy machine gun stolen from a Russian tank, and my job was to move and cover the advance through the town,” he recalls.  

The pair moved into position near a crossroads, where advancing Ukrainian forces would be exposed in an open area. Hobbit had just put his gun down into a makeshift firing position when they spotted a Russian BMP-2M – an infantry fighting vehicle – a few hundred metres away. 

“I thought there was a slight chance to hit some critical system, to disable the BMP. Or if I hit it from the side, rounds might actually go through, so I started blasting the BMP and managed to empty three belts of ammunition into the vehicle and the dismounting infantry.” 

Hobbit was firing the third belt when the bullets zinged through the air. He’d been so focused on the main target that he didn’t notice the Russian sniper. One shot hit him low in the calf, embedding deep into his foot, shattering bones and severing tendons. 

Video from a body-worn camera shows the action in real time that day, and captures the moment when Hobbit is hit. He screams in agony, and swears in Finnish, a language well suited to profanities. His battle buddy calls for a medevac and soon another foreign fighter shows up in an SUV. Hobbit is unceremoniously bundled into the back, his foot bandaged, as he’s driven away. 

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After a month in a Ukrainian hospital, he is transferred to Finland where his family visits him for the first time since he was injured. 

“They were shocked. There was not many words spoken, but many tears.” 

If Hobbit was one of the first Finnish volunteers to show up in Ukraine, then Mariachi is one of the newest. He’s only been in the country a few months.

The nickname, he says, is a nod to his Latin American heritage. 

Studying abroad, the 22-year-old was helping out with pro-Ukraine events on campus but knew he wanted to do more to help – a lot more. 

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“It was my second year at university and I could not focus on anything. I was in school, but in my head, I was browsing the news about what was happening at the front. It was the beginning of last summer I decided I wanted to go. That’s why it took me a long time to get here, I had to prepare.” 

He first floated the idea of going to Ukraine with his dad five months before finally moving. 

“I told him what was on my mind, but he didn’t take it that well. I told my friends about one month before. They tried to stop me, and persuade me not to go. That’s a sign you have good friends. Nobody told me it was a good idea but I wouldn’t be here if I had listened to them,” Mariachi says from his base outside Kyiv, where he’s training with a reconnaissance platoon. 

Unlike the initial waves of foreign volunteers who arrived haphazardly and either served with the International Brigade or operated more independently, Mariachi is serving directly with a Ukrainian unit.

“Ukrainian commanders want good international soldiers in their units, and my commander has been actively recruiting Finnish soldiers here and reservists back in Finland.”

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The advantages are that Ukrainian units get new soldiers who already have more training than Ukrainian recruits have time for. “These guys are battle-hardened, they know how to function out there in the trenches, but they’re civilians who became soldiers out of necessity, they’re not trained army men. The average Ukrainian soldier doesn’t get much training time.” 

One thing Mariachi and the other Finnish fighters in Ukraine have come to rely on is the enviable network put in place back home to support them. 

Kasper Kannosto from the Your Finnish Friends charity explains they’ve bought more than €350,000 of supplies since 2022, and received material donations like cars and equipment worth €100,000. 

On the shopping list has been defensive equipment, night vision goggles, cold weather clothing, socks, generators, pick-up trucks, vans and tools. 

“We include Finnish chocolate and coffee in the packages,” he adds. 

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Mariachi is waiting on a particular brand of boots he likes, which should soon arrive via the Helsinki-Kyiv supply pipeline, and describes the service as “crucial” in providing Finnish fighters with the equipment they need.  

“I’m serving in a recon platoon and if you don’t have night vision goggles you’re fucked. That’s the reality here. And even a good, cheaper pair of night vision headsets can cost €4,500 or €5,000 which is three to four months of active pay,” he says. 

It’s March 2023. 

Bitter fighting rages in the eastern city of Bakhmut, with casualties so high it earns the grim nickname of ‘meat grinder’. Ukraine gets its first delivery of Western heavy tanks: Challengers from Britain and Leopards from Germany, as Vladimir Putin says he plans to move tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus. 

Hobbit is back in Ukraine as well, although his foot is still not healed so he needs a stick to walk around, which confines him to a desk job in logistics for months at a time while he rehabs his injury to get back in fighting shape. 

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It takes him another six months before he’s running again, and when he can do 5km he’s deployed near Bakhmut – a ruined city where ‘success’ is measured house by house and village by village. Tiny incremental gains that do little but sap morale and increase the body count on both sides.

It’s October 2023.

On this mission, Hobbit is the squad leader of a machinegun team, assaulting south of Bakhmut. They’re in the treeline, advancing towards enemy positions when Russian artillery hones in on them. 

“Our whole assault element got hit by artillery, just me and a couple of others were uninjured,” he recalls flatly. 

“The assault was cancelled and we spent the next six or seven hours evacuating the wounded. When we went back for the last wounded guy we picked him up on the stretcher and artillery hit next to us.” 

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Hobbit was injured for the second time, shrapnel in his shoulder and arm. They couldn’t move to safety, or move the last badly injured soldier, because of the incoming Russian artillery fire. Stuck in a foxhole, they waited for hours until they were finally able to get out. 

After a month in hospital, Hobbit requested a transfer to a Ukrainian unit but was assigned as temporary platoon leader in the meantime. “I lasted only three weeks in that role, not a great job. There was very little sleep and a lot of stress and responsibility at least with regards to the Bakhmut fighting.”

“I ended up just crying on my last day, that I can’t do it any more. Luckily I got some time off.”

It’s February 2024. 

The conflict has largely ground to a halt, with Russian and Ukrainian forces digging into entrenched positions. The war has reached increasingly beyond Ukraine’s borders, with Russian oil refineries targeted by Kyiv’s drones, while Western countries hesitate to send more military aid which is badly needed by soldiers on the front lines. 

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“I feel the impact of diminishing support in the last couple of months. Germany is holding back its Taurus cruise missiles, and Europe is not giving as much aid as they should,” says Hobbit. 

“In the beginning, we were so outnumbered by the Russians that when we saw observation posts and called in artillery, we didn’t have shit.” 

“The Kharkiv offensive changed all that, we came level with the Russians. But in the last month it’s back the other way again, Russians hitting us with more artillery,” he says. 

So how long does he plan to stay in Ukraine, risking his life for a foreign country, swerving away from death each time it approaches head-on?

“I hope I won’t be here forever. But definitely until victory.” 

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“The whole idea of a normal life seems impossible now. It’s hard to imagine a life after this.”

“The only thing I can imagine is a party on the day when we win. But what comes after I don’t know. It’s just a cloud.”

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‘Mafia’ strikes bring Finland to a standstill

Unions have called the industrial action to protest government proposals on labour law reforms which they say would adversely impact low-wage earners

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Hundreds of thousands of workers in Finland have joined widespread strikes which began Wednesday and will escalate through Thursday and Friday – with more strikes planned next week too. 

Unions called for industrial action to protest government proposals on labour law reforms which they say would adversely impact low-wage earners and shift a balance of power towards employers when it comes to setting salaries. 

A rally in the capital Helsinki attracted 10,000 workers, police said. A member of parliament from the ruling National Coalition Party wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that protesters had been paid “bribes” to attend. He offered no evidence to substantiate his claim. 

The strike comes right in the middle of campaigning in the second round of Finland’s presidential election, with politicians from the left and right canvassing hard for votes ahead of the ballot on Sunday 11 February.

The government maintains that their sweeping reforms are needed to make the Finnish economy more competitive, and as an indicator of how important the new proposals are to each side, the rhetoric has become more heated and divisive in recent weeks. 

“The need to reform our social security system and increase employment is urgent because of our public debt level. We need to get more people to work, decrease public spending and improve the operating environment to attract investments,” says Arto Satonen, Finland’s Minister for Employment. 

“The EU has pointed a finger at our debt-based public spending outlook and also the IMF has strongly supported the current Finnish government’s policies. For the sake of our future well-being, we should not and cannot leave the reforms undone,” he tells Euronews. 

Which sectors are hit by the strike action?

Unions estimate up to 300,000 workers could participate in the strikes, with Thursday’s rally in Helsinki bringing politicians from each side to the stage to address the crowd, many of whom held colourful balloons and placards. 

A strike by daycare staff in the capital city region started Wednesday, and they were joined by workers from across the spectrum of Finnish working life, impacting trains, trams and buses; airports, airlines and cabin crew; shipping, ferries and port operations; energy production companies; department stores and supermarket chains, hotels and restaurants; cleaning companies; tourism and leisure businesses; Finland’s biggest paper mills, mines and refineries; construction companies; and postal services. 

Maria Löfgren, the President of Akava which represents professional and managerial staff, tells Euronews that her union has “sought to resolve the escalated situation by proposing balancing solutions to the Prime Minister.” 

“So far, the government has not committed to taking them into account […] we want our solution to be genuinely considered,” she says.  

Minister Satonen, from the ruling National Coalition Party, says the government has been working together with unions when preparing its reforms, but they are “absolutely necessary” and that unions cannot have a “right of veto” on the plans. 

What exactly does the Finnish government want to change?

At the heart of the dispute are two main changes the government says it needs to make the Finnish economy more competitive. 

First, there would be swingeing cuts to social welfare provisions, with some of those cuts already implemented. Unions say it would mean hundreds of euros lost each month for people already on low incomes – a serious issue in sectors like retail where wages are already low – and it would adversely impact women who are more likely to be employed in some of those low-wage occupations. 

Secondly, the government wants to rewrite the rules on collective bargaining. 

Finland had traditionally used a tripartite model for labour negotiations: involving the government, representatives from trade unions, and representatives from employers too. That system has largely collapsed in recent years for various reasons, but the government’s latest raft of changes to negotiations, unions claim, would mean the bargaining power of workers is further weakened. 

Unions are concerned that more changes to this decades-old system would be detrimental as it fragments wage negotiations and puts more power in the hands of industries or individual companies to set maximum wage increase levels, potentially leading to income disparity even among people with similar jobs.

“In the long run, this kind of change would almost surely mean lower wages and less beneficial conditions for workers,” says Pekka Ristelä, Head of International Affairs at SAK, the Confederation of Finnish Trade Unions.

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The government has also proposed a system in which pay across the economy is tied to the export sector. It would bar the national labour mediator, which is frequently involved in setting pay, from proposing wage hikes in any labour dispute that are higher than those agreed with the export sector.

Reform plans, and strike action, fire up war of words

The government’s plans, and the unions’ calls for strike action, have again pitted Finland’s ruling right against the left. 

Government ministers have called the unions “mafia”, while right-wing politicians have claimed union leaders will “punish” workers who opt not to strike, and offered free legal advice to anyone in this situation. Another MP from a government party described the right to industrial action as a “pointless inconvenience.” 

Finland’s coalition government, which includes a far-right party as the second biggest partner, has repeatedly tried to paint the strikes as dangerously political, saying they have already secured a mandate from the voters to carry out their reforms – and that unions shouldn’t try to outflank them. 

A citizens’ initiative petition to ban so-called political strikes is supported by several politicians from the prime minister’s party.  

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“It is dangerous if we start seeing internationally recognised, established social players as ‘mafia’ and using those kind of labels. I would say that can be the start of a very harmful societal development,” says SAK’s Pekka Ristelä. 

“International treaties, in particular the ILO, has specific rules on what kind of political strikes must be allowed, and political strikes are directed against government policies that have an effect on workers,” he adds, describing a worrying “Trump effect” where legitimate actions are called into question.

“On the whole, we have wide support in the population.”



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Left vs Right: Finland goes to the polls in close presidential race

The two leading contenders represent the left and right-wing of the Finnish political spectrum and are separated by just three percentage points as advance polling stations open.

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Finns head to the polls this week with advance voting open in the presidential election, while the main ballot takes place at the end of the month.

Voting patterns suggest a third of voters at home and abroad could cast their ballots ahead of 28 January, with Finns overseas also eligible to vote during this period.

From a field of nine candidates, two have emerged as clear favourites to go through to a second round of voting in mid-February, although a late surge from the far-right candidate could still be a surprise upset.

Two former foreign ministers, Alex Stubb from the ruling right-wing National Coalition Party (known locally as Kokoomus) and Pekka Haavisto, a Green politician, have been clearly ahead of the field in opinion polls in a long campaign that has seen the candidates face scrutiny on everything from their foreign policy chops to favourite music, books, food, what cars they drive, and their pets’ social media posts. 

The latest polling shows Stubb and Haavisto within three percentage points of each other. 

The role of the president in Finland is one of the few in Europe both directly elected and not largely ceremonial – unlike Italy, Germany, Estonia or Poland, for example. The position also comes with constitutional responsibility for foreign policy outside of the EU, and the office-holder is commander-in-chief of the Finnish defence forces.

But the president cannot act unilaterally: he or she must work in cooperation with the government of the day during their six-year term as Finland’s head of state.

The office took on greater importance under incumbent Sauli Niinistö, as Finland moved to cement its decades-long alignment with NATO and formally join the military alliance.

Alex Stubb represents the right

Alex Stubb, a US-educated former Finnish PM and foreign minister, has been out of frontline politics for the last seven years: first working at the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg, and then at a university in Italy.

That absence may have shielded him somewhat from the travails of Finnish domestic political dramas: his party Kokoomus has formed a coalition government with the far-right Finns Party, which has been dogged with controversies over racism, support for ethno-nationalist conspiracy theories and links to neo-Nazi groups since taking power last summer.

Although Stubb has so far remained above the government fray, he still attracts support from far-right voters who would prefer him in the presidential palace than his liberal, Green, gay opponent. 

“Voters would get an internationally very well-connected and politically experienced president with vast knowledge of European Union and European politics,” with Alex Stubb, says Jenny Karimäki, a political scientist at the University of Helsinki

Multilingual Stubb has been fervently pro-European throughout his political career and supported NATO membership long before it was fashionable to do so. But questions have been raised about his ‘likeability’ factor especially as his party is traditionally seen as the party of Finland’s rich – and his Swedish-Finnish background, elite education, penchant for designer suits and sometimes brusque attitude can rub working-class Finns up the wrong way. 

Stubb’s campaign said he was too busy to answer questions sent in advance by Euronews.

Pekka Haavisto represents the left

This is Pekka Haavisto’s third crack at becoming Finland’s president, he came second in the last two elections behind Sauli Niinistö. 

Europe’s first openly gay cabinet minister, Haavisto has been with his partner for more than 20 years, a trailblazer for LGBTQ representation at the highest levels of politics: leading his party, and working as a United Nations envoy. 

“Voters would get a president that held a key position as foreign secretary during Finland’s NATO process and thus, has cutting edge knowledge in the fields of foreign and security policy as well as a background and experience as a peace negotiator in Global South,” explains Jenny Karimäki from the University of Helsinki.

Haavisto tells Euronews there’s a feeling of “positive momentum” in his campaign, as he tours the country in a new campaign bus. 

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“People are very eager to discuss national security. There is a lot of enthusiasm in the air,” he adds. 

Seemingly able to deflect potential scandals with ease during his time at the foreign ministry, Haavisto has nonetheless been criticised for being a difficult manager, and for his handling of the scheme to bring back Finnish nationals married to ISIS fighters, and their children, who were stranded at a refugee camp in Syria. 

Haavisto might also have gone too far in trying to appeal as an everyman candidate, while alienating some on the left. In a strategy to attract voters from the centre and soft-right, Haavisto declared he wasn’t a “red” candidate. He brushed off that misstep, telling Euronews that “party affiliations are not at the forefront” of this campaign. 

“Haavisto’s track record and his managing skills and style have been under evaluation in the Finnish media,” adds Helsinki University’s Jenny Karimäki. 

Seven other candidates in a crowded race

There are seven other candidates in the race but so far none of them has seemed to break through nationally. 

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The leader of the Left Alliance party Li Andersson is considered one of the brightest politicians of her generation but still her polling hovers in the mid-single digits. 

Jutta Urpilainen, on leave from her job as Finland’s EU Commissioner, only jumped into the race belatedly, and somewhat half-heartedly, at the end of last year but has failed to gain any real traction for the Social Democrats. 

The Christian Democrats’ Sari Essayah, a former MEP and 1993’s 10,000 metre speedwalking World Champion is on her second presidential campaign and still polling around 1% – 2%; while Hjallis Harkimo, a millionaire reality TV show star who started his own Movement Now political party finds himself languishing there similarly. 

The Centre Party’s Olli Rehn, another former EU Commissioner and currently Chairman of the Bank of Finland has run a solid campaign, and looks ‘presidential’ in his appearances, but his party’s national fortunes have been in the doldrums since the last general election and this will almost certainly reflect on him: Rehn will be lucky to get more than 10% of the vote in the first round.   

Mika Aaltola, an independent candidate with a background in foreign policy, has seen his poll numbers drop like a stone from being one of the front-runners a year ago to low single digits now. A lack of party infrastructure to support his campaigning, and lack of prior political experience, have proved to be the weak points in his presidential bid. 

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The candidate of the far-right Finns Party, Jussi Halla-aho has attempted to fire the campaign with increasingly populist rhetoric: he’s filed police reports against a young Green politician and a comedian for calling him a “fascist”; and he’s also said that Members of Parliament and government ministers should be native-born Finns without a foreign background, something that has been criticised as unconstitutional.

But could he make a late, populist surge, and get into the second round of voting? 

“To my knowledge Halla-aho’s support comes mainly from the Finns Party supporters and he has not been able to attract support across the party spectrum,” says Jenny Karimäki from the University of Helsinki.

“Finns Party support is at around 17% and should he be able to convince all of them it might be a tight race but to do that Halla-aho would have to win back all those Finns Party supporters currently supporting Alexander Stubb,” she explains.

“Thus far, Halla-aho’s campaign has not, however, revealed anything particularly new aspects of him and his politics that would turn the table in his favour vis-a-vis Stubb.”

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Musk’s woes deepen as Tesla strike spreads across Scandinavia


Sweden v. Musk

The labour dispute between Tesla and its repair workshop mechanics that originated in Sweden on October 27 has escalated to include Denmark, Finland and Norway. As the stakes rise, Elon Musk’s electric vehicle manufacturer continues to resist signing a collective agreement with its Swedish employees.

Tesla majority-shareholder and CEO Elon Musk faces growing resistance in Scandinavia’s social democracies after refusing to sign a collective agreement determining the minimum wage of his employees.

The dispute, which initially involved only 130 mechanics at ten Tesla repair workshops across seven Swedish cities, has ballooned into an international strike movement.

“The mistake [American multinational] Tesla made was challenging the collective agreements that set sector-specific minimum wages in Sweden, a country where 70% of the population is unionised, compared with only 8% of private sector workers in France,” says Yohann Aucante, a political scientist and Scandinavia specialist at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris.

Concerned about safeguarding collective agreements, which cover nearly 90% of all employees in Sweden, 15 Swedish unions have joined the strike at the request of the powerful IF Metall union since it kicked off on October 27.

Transporters are refusing to deliver vehicles while electricians are declining to repair charging stations. Cleaning staff have stopped cleaning showrooms, garbage is piling up outside Tesla centres as refuse collectors refuse to pick it up, and the Swedish postal service has stopped delivering license plates essential for registering new Teslas.

On the retail end of the supply chain, car dealerships have stopped offering Teslas and Stockholm taxis have suspended their Tesla purchases.

Neighbours join fight

Far from stopping in Sweden, the “sympathy strike” has spread to the country’s Nordic cousins who also see Tesla’s ambitions as threatening their labour models.

“There are also strong collective agreements and unions in Norway, especially in Denmark, where these agreements determine the majority of labour law,” says Aucante. “Therefore, Norwegians and Danes are keen on this model which gives unions some negotiating power against employers.”

After Denmark’s largest union, 3F, declared a solidarity strike with Swedish workers on December 5, Norway’s largest private sector union warned on December 6 that it would block the transit of Tesla cars to Sweden if the American automaker did not reach an agreement with its Swedish workers by December 20.

The following day, the Finnish transport workers’ union AKT offered the same pledge. “It is a crucial part of the Nordic labour market model that we have collective agreements and unions support each other,” AKT president Ismo Kokko said in a statement.

International sympathy strikes are rare, but not unprecedented says Aucante. The last major mobilisation dates back to 1995 when the American toy company Toys “R” Us tried to bypass unions and impose its own salary rules. The retailer eventually yielded after three months of strikes in Sweden and Europe. 

Musk outraged

The revolt has provoked outrage from Musk who described the industrial action as “insane” on his social network, X, on November 23.

In response, Tesla filed a request to compel the Swedish postal operator to deliver the license plates and sought compensation for a loss of over €87,000. However, its prosecution request was rejected on December 7 by a Swedish court.

The carmaker is now actively seeking a government affairs specialist in Sweden to help resolve the issue. A job listing posted recently on the Tesla careers website shows the company is looking for someone with a “proven track record of getting regulatory changes made in the Nordics”.

Nordic investors ‘deeply concerned’

Another, more serious threat to Musk is a group of powerful pension funds in the region which have begun criticising Tesla’s conduct.

A group of Nordic investors, which include Norway‘s largest pension fund KLP, Sweden’s Folksam and Denmark‘s PFA, defended the Swedish labour market model in a letter sent to Tesla on Thursday, saying they are “deeply concerned” about the situation.

“We as Nordic investors acknowledge the decade-old tradition of collective bargaining, and therefore urge Tesla to reconsider your current approach to unions,” the letter reads.

The investor letter also asks for a meeting with Tesla’s board in early 2024 to discuss the matter.

Some funds, acting individually, have gone further in their critique. Kiran Aziz, head of responsible investments at KLP, which holds around €195 million in Tesla shares, said it’s not “just about the labour model in the Nordic but about fundamental human rights”.

Read moreMacron, Musk meet in Paris to discuss future investment in France

In Denmark, the pension fund PensionDanmark has decided it’s already seen enough. It sold its 476 million Danish crowns (€64 million) in Tesla holdings on December 7.

The Norges Bank Investment Bank (NBIM), which operates the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund and is the seventh-largest Tesla shareholder with a stake of around €6.3 billion, did not sign on to the letter. However, it declared last week that it would continue to pressure the company to respect labour rights, such as collective bargaining.

A blow to branding

For Tesla, the stakes are high. “As Scandinavians are the leading consumers of Tesla in Europe, the company has no interest in prolonging a conflict that will severely damage its image,” says Aucante, who believes Tesla will have to make concessions.

“With the trend towards greening economies, it’s ‘bad form’ to produce cars in China when building an electric car aimed at reducing carbon impact,” adds Aucante. “That’s why Tesla is trying to bring back some of its production to Europe, but labour costs are not the same, and there are more regulations here.”

While the strike currently affects only northern European countries, there is speculation it could inspire the 11,000 employees at Tesla’s largest European operation, the Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg.

German employees secured a 4% salary increase in early November as a result of pressure from German unions – a concession which could be linked to the fear of the strike in Nordic countries migrating south, according to the Washington Post.

Across the Atlantic, Tesla workers have yet to unionise. However, after the United Auto Workers (UAW) successfully negotiated deals with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis in November, Tesla is likely worried about unions back home, too.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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Influx of migrants from Russia to Finland: ‘This will put pressure on Europe’

Since the beginning of November, more than 400 asylum seekers have arrived at Finnish border crossings from Russia, compared to the usual ten or so a month. Helsinki accuses Moscow of orchestrating this influx of migrants and has closed almost all its border crossings. As a result, more and more migrants are heading for northern Russia, despite the cold, where a crossing point is expected to remain open for the next few days.

Issued on:

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Between November 1 and 17, 415 people – hailing from Syria, Yemen, Iraq or Somalia – arrived at border crossings in southeastern Finland to request asylum. They came from Russia without Schengen visas or residence permits. This figure is much higher than usual, according to the Finnish border guards who noticed an increase in asylum seekers arriving since August.

Number of asylum seekers arriving at border crossings in southeastern Finland in 2023. Finnish Border Guard

On social media, videos show people, often on bicycles, heading for the border posts with Finland.


Video posted on Twitter on November 19, 2023 and filmed in Russia, around 40 km from the Vartius border crossing.

Finland has accused Russia of masterminding the surge of migrants, a sentiment shared by the European Commission. They say the move is meant to destabilise the country, as retaliation for Finland joining NATO in April and aligning with the United States on defence issues. The Finnish Prime Minister emphasised that “Russia is instrumentalising migrants” in what amounts to a “hybrid attack”.

Finnish border guards agree. “Previously the Russians didn’t let people cross their border crossing point to Finland without required travel documents to Finland, but now they have.The phenomenon at the eastern border involves elements of organised illegal immigration facilitated by international crime including active marketing in social media,” Commander Pentti Alapelto of the Finnish Border Guard told FRANCE 24. 

Russia has rejected these accusations.

‘We give [border guards] $500 per person to let them continue their way to Finland from the Russian-Finnish crossing’

On November 22, we spoke on WhatsApp with Ahmed (not his real name), whose number appears on videos online filmed near the border. He claims to be in Turkey, where he is organising safe passage for migrants between Russia and the Finnish border.

I help people by sending them by car to the border in agreement with the Russian police. After that, I give the Russian border police $500 [€457] per person to cross, and the police give them bicycles.

No, there was no agreement with the border police [before November]. One of my men working on the Russian-Finnish border told me. I expect this is to put pressure on Europe with immigrants. 

I charge $1,200 [€1,097] per person: $500 for the border guard, $200 per person for the driver – because I am the owner of the car – and $500 for myself.

I sent about 200 people to the border with Russia in just 10 days [since November 12]. They are mainly Syrians, Iraqis, Tunisians, Moroccans, Turks, Yemenis and Lebanese. Of the people I delivered, some of them were in Russia, the others were in Belarus, and some of them came from Georgia or Turkey.

On a Telegram channel, this person is offering two seats in his car for the journey from Saint Petersburg to Salla in 14 hours, for the price of $400.
On a Telegram channel, this person is offering two seats in his car for the journey from Saint Petersburg to Salla in 14 hours, for the price of $400. © Telegram

We have not been able to independently verify this smuggler’s claims. However, the “agreement” he describes with the Russians is consistent with the accusations made by the Finns. In addition, in a conversation on a Telegram channel, a man claimed to be in contact with someone who had managed to cross the border after paying $100 to a Russian border guard. 

In addition, videos filmed near the border and posted on social networks show people on bicycles. The Reuters news agency has also published photos of rows of bikes at various border posts (for example at Salla on November 23). 

Crossing the border on foot is prohibited, so many have chosen to take bikes to bypass this restriction. Last week, however, Finland barred entry by bicycle.


The video on the left, posted on Twitter on November 17, 2023, was taken in Russia, just 3 km from the Nuijamaa border crossing. It also shows people on bicycles.

Almost all border crossings closed

To counter the influx of undocumented migrants, Finland closed four border crossings on the night of November 17, and three more on the night of November 23. Only one crossing point in the north remains open for asylum seekers.

Border crossings closed in Finland since November 17.
Border crossings closed in Finland since November 17. © Observers

On Friday November 24, “Ahmed” told us that he would continue to send people to the Finnish border as long as there was an open crossing point. 

On November 22, our team spoke to a Syrian whose two relatives recently tried to reach the Finnish border: “One of my friends was able to enter Finland five days ago. He paid $350 for a 12-hour journey from Moscow to a crossing point, then had to pay $300 [€274] for the bike.” His brother, on the other hand, was unable to cross the border.

We also spoke to two men who have not been able to enter Finland either, due to the phased closure of border crossings. One of them, who did not want to give his nationality, said that he had paid $700 (€640) to travel from Saint Petersburg to the border a few days ago, to no avail. 

Another, a Syrian, says he paid $100 to travel from Moscow to Saint Petersburg with four people from Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Somalia. Once there, he paid a further $300 to travel north by taxi. At the time of writing, he had still not managed to cross the border. He told us that it was -25°C where he was.

‘There is a substantial chance of people freezing to death’

The Civic Assistance Committee, a Russian NGO that helps migrants and refugees, told us about Finland’s decision to close its border crossings.

This decision will impact a wide variety of people. First of all, it will severe connections between families that live in both countries. Secondly, it will trap refugees from Syria, Yemen, Somalia, etc. that have close to zero chances of obtaining asylum in Russia inside the country. Finland doing this bypasses the problem of dealing with asylum seekers and processing their application. If you have zero asylum seekers because they can’t enter your country, then you don’t have to provide asylum to anyone.

People are living in tents near the northern crossing points. There is a substantial chance of people freezing to death as this November is very cold and we’ve seen such incidents during the situation on the Belarus-EU border. These asylum seekers need to be treated with respect and put out of the danger of freezing to death.

We know that dozens of refugees were detained by the police, tried and sentenced to deportation because they are now illegally in Russia with expired visas and no asylum.

One of the Syrians we spoke to also expressed this fear: “At the moment, I can’t tell you which village I’m in, because if the Russians find out there are migrants here, they’ll come and get us and send us back to Syria.”

Read moreMigrants turned away at Belarus-Poland border: ‘We see families and people with disabilities’



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Finland’s presidential election campaign heats up the winter months

Russia’s war in Ukraine and destabilising “hybrid warfare” actions on the eastern border put foreign and security policy at the top of the agenda for candidates and voters alike.

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November, in Finnish, translates as ‘dead month’, and is nobody’s favourite time of year. 

But the presidential election race is lighting up the winter murk of the Nordic nation, as Russia’s war in Ukraine and destabilising “hybrid warfare” actions on the eastern border put foreign and security policy at the top of the agenda for candidates and voters alike. 

Finland’s EU Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen is the latest, and last, main candidate to join the slate for January’s vote. And she’s left it late.  

The Social Democrat’s belated entry to the race betrays her prospects of winning – Urpilainen reportedly declared only now to allow herself the maximum time away from her EU job without actually losing it. 

She won’t even start campaigning in earnest until December, which has meant that senior figures from her party have been left with the bizarre indignity of making public appearances holding a life-size cutout of the former finance minister just to try and keep her name in the public eye, while other candidates had launched their campaigns months before. 

The powers of the Finnish president have shrunk over the last four decades but the officeholder still takes the lead on foreign policy outside of the EU and is commander-in-chief of the Finnish military. It’s one of the few presidential roles in Europe that is both directly elected by the people and wields executive powers. 

The foreign and security policy campaign

Finland’s entry into NATO, and the geopolitical realities of being Russia’s neighbour during a time of war, have put a spotlight on this election like never before. It’s attracted some ‘big beast’ candidates with experience as prime minister, foreign ministers, party leaders, MEPs, and EU Commissioners on their resumes. 

“We are now at the heart of Finnish security and foreign policy issues,” says Pekka Haavisto, a Green politician who was runner-up in the last two presidential elections and is a frontrunner this time round too. The former UN Special Representative and foreign minister would become Finland’s first Green, and first gay president if elected. 

“People are asking about NATO, the future of Russia, the defence cooperation agreement with the US. And now in the last week there were many questions about the Middle East and how that influences world politics,” he tells Euronews. 

“Even China and Taiwan issues come up regularly, people are following the news closely.”

Haavisto has woven together a broad coalition of well-known supporters from across Finland’s political spectrum – including from the parties of his rivals – as well as household names in Finnish culture and sport to back his third bid for the presidency. 

“It was important to get those people with different political backgrounds behind my campaign, people have already made that choice based on personalities and not on traditional political party links. But for the first time in my campaign we have big names from the economic side too, and entrepreneurs,” he explains in an interview with Euronews as he heads to a campaign event in Eastern Finland. 

“It is an interesting phenomenon, to show that I am not just a [left-wing] candidate.” 

Former Prime Minister Alex Stubb is one of the other front-runners, with most polls showing the National Coalition Party candidate trailing Haavisto in the first round – where the outright winner would have to get more than 50% of the vote – and trailing in a possible second-round clash too. 

With an estimated €1.5 million from supporters and the right-wing National Coalition Party at his disposal, Stubb is running the richest campaign this election cycle. 

He benefits from having been out of Finnish domestic politics and above the fray in recent years, when he quit the country to work in Luxembourg and then Italy after leading his party to a fourth-place election defeat in 2015. A campaign to be ‘President of Europe’ also fell flat when he was defeated as the EPPs spitzenkandidat in a race that ultimately saw Ursula von der Leyen appointed to the role. 

While Stubb, also a former foreign minister and MEP, is undoubtedly at home on the international stage, a perceived lack of interest in domestic issues has dogged his political career. 

Being president would mean he’d have to spend significant amounts of time cutting ribbons, having tea with pensioners and visiting factories among the more routine and mundane tasks of the role, something party insiders concede he is ill-suited to. 

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Life on the campaign trail

The presidential election campaign season in Finland is long, with prospective candidates often jostling for attention already during the summer and then, once declared, subjected to an endless round of panel discussions, radio and TV interviews, shopping mall stump speeches, and shaking countless hands at market place meet-and-greets the length and breadth of the country. 

“It’s a tough workload,” says Li Andersson, the Left Alliance candidate who is also the leader of her party. 

“I have to build my campaign around my work in parliament because that’s what I’m elected to do. In January we have a break in the parliamentary session and I will be able to use those weeks to tour around the country, and I’ll be using weekends in December for tours,” she tells Euronews. 

“I love meeting people, and you shouldn’t be in political affairs unless you love people. For me, that’s part of the job,” she adds. 

“There is a strong sense of seriousness around the country when you give a speech and have a Q&A when I go to a marketplace or coffee shop or library,” says OIli Rehn, a former EU Commissioner on leave during the campaign from his job as Governor of the Bank of Finland. 

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“When you discuss foreign and security policy or what NATO membership implies, or Russian aggression or the president’s constitutional powers, there is a very strong and deep silence in the room and you can feel that people are very focused. There is a sense of seriousness in the campaign this time round,” the Centre Party candidate tells Euronews. 

Despite the serious nature of the campaign overall, there’s also a lot of fluff in the hoops that Finland expects its presidential candidates to jump through to entertain voters and show some of their personality. 

In the past, they’ve had to endure cooking segments on morning TV shows, while this time around candidates appeared on a prime-time Saturday variety show where a band played their favourite song and they had to tell the audience the story behind it – the sort of format a cynic would say is ripe for exploitation by any clever politician, who can concoct an emotional tale to warm even the iciest of Finnish voters’ hearts. 

“These so-called lighter programmes have become part and parcel of all election campaigns at least in Finland. I take it as a fact rather than think whether I like it or not, I try to enjoy it as much as possible,” says Rehn, who recently stood outside a Helsinki library making lemonade with students to encourage them to become entrepreneurs. 

“People are interested because they want to have the chance to glimpse and see the character and personality of the candidates.” 

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Smaller parties get equal billing during campaign

Traditionally in Finland, smaller parties have put forward a presidential candidate even if there’s no realistic chance of winning or reaching the second round. Individuals too can run for office if they first collect more than 20,000 signatures from voters.  

This year there are candidates running from all the major political parties in parliament, including the Finns Party, Christian Democrats and Movement Now, but not the Swedish People’s Party. There are also individual declared fringe candidates who are unlikely to gather enough support to get on the ballot. 

“There is a very competitive list of candidates who have ministerial jobs, and like myself who was head of a foreign policy think tank,” explains independent candidate Mika Aaltola, who did collect enough signatures and polled high during the spring and summer, but whose support has since cooled off. 

“Clearly it is a crossroads for Finland, the citizens and political parties want to put forward candidates who have a lot of credible experience,” he adds. While Aaltola has the foreign policy chops as head of the Finnish Institute for International Affairs – he first broke through after a string of clear-headed fact-based media appearances when Russia invaded Ukraine – his lack of direct political experience has shown through as the race goes on. 

He concedes that his campaign has only €25,000 in the bank, a fraction of most other candidates, and he relies heavily on a team of volunteers.  

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“I don’t have a PR agency or comms agency creating a campaign strategy. All that is missing,” he tells Euronews after a turbulent couple of weeks when he endured bad press following a series of gaffes which a more seasoned political operator would have known how to avoid in the first place. 

The Left Alliance’s Li Andersson explains that it’s “important for democracy that you have a broad representative of candidates with views on foreign and security policy, and smaller parties can raise important questions for us and for a lot of voters too.” 

Polling in the middle of the pack so far, Andersson is the youngest candidate in the field but has been party leader for the last eight years. As an MP she sat on the foreign affairs committee in parliament; she was minister of education in Sanna Marin’s government, and lead her party through two successful general election campaigns. 

“This is the fora for talking about foreign and security policy, which is a hugely important part of the conversation in Finland,” she says. 

The first round of the Finnish presidential election is held on 28 January. If no single candidate gets more than 50% of the votes, a second round featuring the top two candidates will be held on 11 February.

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Finland faces autumn of discontent with strikes and protests

Trade union leaders say the right-wing government is a ‘reverse Robin Hood’ administration: cutting benefits to the poor, but rewarding the rich with tax breaks.

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Finland’s right-wing government is facing an autumn of discontent as trade unions and students put pressure on it over cuts to social welfare, the erosion of employment rights and job security, and new restrictions on international students who want to stay in the Nordic nation.

Trade union leaders have branded Prime Minister Petteri Orpo’s government a ‘reverse Robin Hood administration’ slashing benefits for the poor while rewarding the rich with tax cuts.

The most visible recent protests began with students occupying Helsinki University, a movement now entering its third week for which a thousand university staff members have signed a letter of support. Organisers say the movement has “spread like wildfire” to every other major university in the country.

“We support the students’ views, and the University leadership understands the occupiers’ concerns about the livelihood of students,” says Vice-Rector Kai Nordlund in a statement.

Students say they’ve endured enough cuts, and a line must be drawn. 

“During the last decade the welfare support that Finnish students receive has been constantly cut, and this government is continuing that, worsening the situation for students and forcing us to take on more debt in order to study which means when we graduate we have a huge amount of debt to pay off,” says Havu Laakso, one of the  students occupying Helsinki University.

Laakso and their compatriots start the week with a boost to morale after a standoff with authorities, which ordered them out before Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö was due to speak at a recent event in the building. At the eleventh hour the university capitulated and the students, whose ranks had swelled with the prospect of forced eviction, managed to make plenty of noise during Niinistö’s speech.

“This current government also wants to increase tuition fees and tighten immigration policy making it so that international students only have three months to find a job once they graduate, or they get kicked out,” Laakso tells Euronews.

Experts have been baffled as to why the current government would cut housing allowances, while at the same time needs to attract thousands of foreign workers to fill traditionally low-paid jobs like nursing and elderly care – workers who rely on exactly these sorts of benefits to make ends meet; and also why there would be such a tight timeline imposed on international graduates whose skills are needed if Finland wants to be one of Europe’s most innovative and tech-lead economies. 

One politician from the ruling National Coalition Party ratcheted up the rhetoric over the weekend by framing the students as ‘left-wing invaders’ who were unreasonably demanding more grants and allowances from the state; while opposition politicians from the Social Democrats questioned why members of parliament were willing to make welfare cuts, but not willing to go to the protest and explain why they were doing it, face-to-face.

What would Jesus do? Finland’s churches get involved

Meanwhile a Helsinki parish church described it as “ungodly” to cut money from already low-income and disadvantaged people, and the official Turku Cathedral social media accounts posted a similar message of support, saying “caring for your loved ones is part of the Christian faith, regardless of party affiliation.” 

The ‘occupy education’ strikes have even spread to some Finnish high schools, first in the capital region and now several other cities, as the union representing high school students, Lukio, encourages its teenage members to speak up.

“There are a lot of protests taking place everywhere around the country, and I think the government will have to pay attention, but I’m not too hopeful they will change,” Lukio chairperson Ella Siltanen tells Euronews.

The Finnish government promised to send a statement to Euronews about the ongoing situation, but failed to do so before publication.

Government’s attempts at labour market reform

Alongside cuts to student benefits and tighter immigration measures, the government is also proposing some of the widest reforms to the labour market in decades, and while experts agree that Finland’s social security system and labour market regulations are ripe for overhaul, Finns are reluctant to embrace wholesale change.

A previous attempt at sweeping reforms in the early 1990s fell by the wayside after unions threatened a nationwide general strike; and more recently, the introduction of a so-called ‘activation model’ to get people off benefits and into employment introduced by PM Juha Sipilä’s government in 2018 was met with widespread protests, as it essentially punished unemployed jobseekers who couldn’t find work. 

The deeply unpopular activation model was largely rolled back by the next, left-wing, government after it was revealed more than 90,000 people had their benefits cut.

Unions launch three weeks of targeted strike action

The current government swept into office on a promise to limit government borrowing, and rein in what they viewed as the ‘profligate’ spending of the Sanna Marin administration.

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But they’ve already blown through their own €10 billion borrowing limit, and are now acquiring debt at the same rate as Marin’s government, putting to rest any lingering notion that the fiscally conservative National Coalition Party is somehow naturally better at handling the economy than its left-wing counterpart the Social Democrats.

“I think we have to go back to the 1990s before we had this kind of government,” explains Jarkko Eloranta, the President of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK.

“This is not an austerity budget the government has introduced, because they are giving tax relief for the most wealthy, like lowering taxes for people earning morning than €80,000 per year,” he tells Euronews.

“This is a reverse Robin Hood government, it takes from the poor and gives to the rich so in that sense it is only an austerity budget for low-income people.”

As part of the wider protests, Eloranta’s SAK has announced three weeks of targeted strike action in different sectors, and in different parts of the country. The union is flexing its muscle, hoping to give the government a taste of what could happen if they don’t walk back some of the policies that unions find problematic.

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“Of course we have other plans ahead if the situation continues, and I am quite sure the government is not shaken or backing down due to our current activities,” says Eloranta, hinting at the possible escalation of strike action. 

Finnish media reports that Minister of Finance Riikka Purra, leader of the far-right Finns Party, has refused to meet with senior trade union leaders since taking office in June. 

“The government says they are listening but there’s no real discussions, no real negotiations, they are just implementing their own policies,” says Eloranta.



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Explained | What made Turkey green-light Sweden joining NATO?

The story so far: A day ahead of a key summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) on Monday, July 10, checked off a major task from its agenda for this year. It finally reached a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to let Sweden into the military alliance. This came after a year of negotiations and global leaders lobbying Mr. Erdogan to drop his veto against Sweden, which he contended was harbouring “terrorist groups.”

Related: Explained | Why is Turkey against Sweden, Finland joining NATO?

What is the procedure to join NATO? 

There are some minimum requirements for a country to be eligible to join NATO, such as upholding democracy, tolerating diversity, respecting the sovereignty of other countries and so on. 

Once a country applies for NATO membership, they are signed on to a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a mechanism used by every new member that joined between 1999 and 2020. Sweden and Finland, the most recent applicants, however, did not use this procedure.

Once a country has met the requirements and expressed its intention to join NATO, it is invited to do so if all member countries agree. This marks the beginning of accession talks, which end with the signing of the Accession Protocol. 

All member countries— 31 at present— have to sign the Protocol and then get it ratified by their national legislatures, subsequently submitting the ratified instrument to the United States government, which is the depositary of the Treaty. 

Since all existing members have to undertake this process, the Turkish President’s disagreement over Sweden has effectively acted as a veto power. 

When did Sweden apply to join NATO?

In May 2022, two Nordic countries, Sweden and Finland, applied to join NATO, the organisation whose initial goal was to block the erstwhile Soviet Union’s expansion in Europe post the Second World War.

These countries have historically had a policy of military ‘non-alignment.’ While the two countries co-operated with NATO as closely as a non-member could, they did not apply for official membership until last year. In the past, they have held joint military drills with NATO, shared intelligence and have supported NATO’s military missions abroad. 

It was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine that largely triggered the countries’ bid to join NATO. The Russian military operation in Ukraine was seen by many as Russia violating the sovereignty of a weaker power in its neighbourhood. It also raised questions as to whether Russia would have started the war if Ukraine had been a NATO member. While Sweden and Finland did not have a border issue with Russia, neither did Ukraine until the Crimean annexation by Moscow in 2014. Sweden and Finland were now worried about a potential future border conflict. The war virtually changed the security dynamic in the region and prompted the two nations to apply for NATO membership, believing that it would act as a deterrent.

However, the membership bids of the countries hit a year-long impasse owing to the objections of one NATO member— Turkey. While Turkey agreed earlier this year to let Finland join the alliance, it held out on Sweden’s bid.

Why was Turkey against Sweden’s NATO membership?

Turkey has argued that Sweden and Finland have ties with “terrorist” groups — a reference to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The PKK, which seeks greater autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish minority, has waged an armed insurgency since the mid-1980s. The YPG is the armed wing of Syrian Kurdistan which controls parts of the Kurdish region in Syria. The PKK is also deemed a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

Meanwhile, Sweden has criticised Turkey for human rights abuses, especially in Kurdish regions, and questioned its democratic standards— which has not gone down with politicians in Ankara. 

Mr. Erdogan said Sweden, and Finland to a certain extent, maintained close ties with Kurdish militias, particularly the YPG. It also accused the countries of hosting supporters of the Fethullah Gulen movement, a religious sect led by the U.S.-based Gulen accused by Ankara of masterminding the failed 2016 coup against Mr. Erdogan. It also alleged that the two Nordic countries refused to extradite 33 people wanted by Ankara. 

Mr. Erdogan was also upset by an arms shipment embargo imposed by the two countries on Turkey from 2019 after its incursion into Syria against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. As a concession to get Turkey on board for their NATO bid, Sweden lifted the ban last year.

In June 2022, following negotiations, Turkey agreed to let Finland and Sweden join NATO provided they worked on counter-terrorism measures. In March this year, Turkey said it was satisfied with Finland’s efforts and ratified its Accession Protocol, but said that Sweden had not done enough.

Earlier this year, protests in Stockholm where the Quran was burned also added to Turkey’s disagreement. On a separate occasion, an effigy of Erdogan was hanged upside down, as per a Reuters report.

What softened Turkey’s stance on Sweden?

A look at some simultaneous developments and at the Joint Statement by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, Mr. Erdogan, and Swedish Prime Ulf Kristersson indicates that the reasons for Turkey’s change in stance are multi-fold. 

“Sweden has amended its constitution, changed its laws, significantly expanded its counter- terrorism cooperation against the PKK, and resumed arms exports to Türkiye, all steps set out in the Trilateral Memorandum agreed in 2022,” the joint release outlines. 

The two countries also agreed to create a new bilateral Security Compact that will meet annually at ministerial level. NATO reiterated that it condemns terrorism and decided to create the post of Special Coordinator for Counter-terrorism for the alliance.

While these are efforts toward Turkey’s original objection about Sweden harbouring “terrorist groups,” Ankara has managed to get a lot more in return for its green light to Sweden’s NATO bid.

Mr. Erdogan this week said he would clear the way for Sweden to join NATO, if Turkey was allowed to join the European Union. Turkey launched its bid to join the EU in 2005, but some of Mr. Erdogan’s internal politics led to an indefinite suspension of talks. In 2016, the European Parliament had voted to suspend talks after noting human rights violations, jailing of dissidents, and deterioration of the rule of law in Turkey, and how the President strengthened his grip on the country’s leadership.

While Mr. Erdogan’s proposal was brushed off by the EU and Washington, Sweden promised that it would support some of Turkey’s bids to join and some of its demands at the EU. These demands include the modernisation of the EU-Turkey Customs Union and visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens.

Analysts also point out another potentially significant development: U.S President Joe Biden announced hours after the NATO deal with Turkey that the White House would move forward with a deal to transfer F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. 

In 2019, Washington had dropped Turkey from a programme to develop and produce F-35 fighter jets after the latter purchased the S-400 defence system from Russia. America has also imposed sanctions on Turkey. Since then, Turkey has demanded that it be allowed to purchase F-16 jets and optimise the ones it already had.

What does Sweden’s membership mean for NATO?

Firstly, this membership aligns with NATO’s expansion plans. Second, it helps consolidate NATO’s security efforts and defence integration in the Nordic, Baltic region, and Arctic regions. All other Nordic countries are already members of the alliance.

It also brings NATO closer to Russia’s borders. Further, Sweden has a sophisticated army and defence technology, which could benefit NATO.

For Sweden, it means securing NATO protections that only formal membership brings. For instance, Article 5 of NATO says that any attack on a NATO member “shall be considered an attack against them all”.

What’s next?

The Turkish President has said he will get Sweden’s Accession Protocol ratified in Turkey’s Grand National Assembly as soon as possible. It is yet to be seen how long his administration will take to introduce the document in the legislature and convince hard line politicians who are against Sweden over the alleged Kurdish ties.

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5 things we already know about Finland’s new right-wing government

From tax cuts to climate change, increased VAT to Finland’s international reputation, here’s some key things you should know.

The setting and symbolism couldn’t have been more striking, or more different. 

After the 2019 Finnish election, the parties of the new coalition government presented their policy programme in Helsinki’s spectacular Oodi Central Library in the morning over coffee, and took questions from the public and journalists alike — before embarking on a tour of town halls up and down the country to have conversations with voters about the future direction of Finland. 

Compare that with 2023, when the four parties which make up Finland’s new coalition government summoned journalists at 6pm on a Friday evening, no members of the public allowed, to unveil their policy agenda — which came after seven weeks of fractious negotiations.

The right-wing National Coalition Party, known locally as Kokoomus, emerged from the April general election with the most seats in parliament, and partnered with the next biggest group, the far-right Finns Party. Also on board are the Christian Democrats and the Swedish People’s Party, with Kokoomus leader Petteri Orpo as Finland’s next prime minister. 

So what are some of the key things we know already about the new government programme, and how might it all unfold now: 

1. This is the most right-wing Finnish government in modern times

Kokoomus has a vocal EU-sceptic and immigrant-sceptic wing. The Christian Democrats’ best-known MP is anti-abortion, and became something of a cause celebre among the US Christian right when she carried a bible into court to face charges of being anti-LGBT. She was later cleared

Meanwhile, the Finns Party’s track record on immigration, the EU and fighting the climate crisis speaks for itself. 

There are also several Finns Party MPs, including senior party members, with convictions for race-related crimes, and the younger cadre of Finns Party politicians who came to prominence during the last two election cycles have a fondness for Donald Trump’s MAGA movement. 

“Petteri Orpo’s government programme is building a European, free and secure Finland that will not just sit on its hands,” insists Kokoomus MP Elina Valtonen, who is likely to land one of the big ministerial portfolios in the new government.

“A strong and caring NATO Finland, where consumer choice increases, entrepreneurship pays, skills are valued, living standards rise and nature is cared for,” she adds. 

But political analyst Juho Rahkonen says “we have a more right-wing government than perhaps ever before,” a stark contrast to outgoing Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s five-party center-left coalition.

Finns Party leader Riikka Purra said the Nordic nation should opt for a tougher immigration line, and called for stricter asylum policy, time-limited protection of asylum-seekers, mandatory integration, and plans to reduce the number of quota refugees, saying those policies would amount to “a paradigm shift.”

2. The Swedish People’s Party is taking a reputational gamble

No party has more at stake in this coalition government than the Swedish People’s Party SFP/RKP. 

With ten seats in parliament, they are the only party which was also in the previous government — an administration which put intersectional feminism at the heart of policymaking with Sanna Marin as prime minister.

Over the last four years they’ve moved further to the left on issues of internationality, multi-culturalism, human rights and immigration — an anathema to the Finnish right-wing.  

Before negotiations, SFP/RKP leader Anna-Maja Henriksson said she wouldn’t be in the government if it was doing Finns Party politics, but she seems to have capitulated and it’s difficult to see at this stage what she has actually won for her party — except perhaps to prolong Finland’s widely-criticised fur farming industry, which employs around two thousand people, many of them in her own constituency area. 

For a party that’s already divided between it’s Ostrobothnia ‘countryside’ voters and the southern coastal ‘city’ voters, the Swedish People’s Party might have lost the chance to appeal to other non-Swedish-speaking Finns, immigrants and young people as potential voters, by joining up with a far-right party in government — indeed their own youth group leadership quit the government formation talks in protest at cooperation with the Finns Party, and Henriksson admitted on Friday that still not all her MPs were in favour of being in government with them.  

3. Four billion in savings needed

Petteri Orpo promised to find €4 billion in savings to reduce Finland’s debt, and that means a mixture of cuts — which are never popular with the people on the receiving end — and cost savings or fundraising in the form of increasing items with a 10% VAT to 14%, making it even more expensive to buy medicines, take part in sports, go to the cinema or cultural events, or book a hotel room. 

“Before the elections, we promised to put the country’s affairs in order. We promised an adjustment of €6 billion and 100,000 new jobs,” says Kokoomus MP Sinuhe Wallinheimo

Most of the savings are coming from €1.5 billion cuts to social security, and by re-jigging how regional healthcare systems are funded from the central government to generate efficiency savings. 

There will be freezes for the next four years on earnings-related unemployment insurance, housing allowance and some other benefits. 

There’s cuts of €125 million for education and culture grants, and an adult education subsidy will also be scrapped. Some €250 million will be cut from funding for new roads projects and another €250 million from development aid budgets. 

Tax on beer will decrease, but taxes on wines, spirits and soft drinks will go up. 

“There is enough money for investors and high earners, but poor families with children, students and the elderly are being cut,” says Jussi Saramo, chair of the Left Alliance Parliamentary Group. 

“For example, massive housing benefit cuts will hit students, single parents and those working in low-wage jobs hard,” he says. 

4. Fighting the climate crisis

The previous Finnish government were enthusiastic about setting targets to meet and even exceed international agreements on carbon emissions – even if they were less enthusiastic about taking enough concrete steps to meet those goals fast enough. 

Within the new government, the Finns Party has been opposed to the idea that Finns — who they say are among the least polluting people on the planet — should have to take radical steps to fight the climate crisis when this should be done by big polluting countries instead. 

They’ve also wanted to lower the price of petrol and resisted calls to reduce the number of petrol cars on Finnish roads. 

“The new government is very much leaning towards the conservative right and takes Finland backwards when it comes to climate action and biodiversity protection,” says Ville Niinistö, a Finnish Green MEP. 

“The financing for nature protection is reduced by one-third from the previous Marin government and therefore we have no tools to protect our forests and waterways in line with global commitments to stop biodiversity loss,” he tells Euronews. 

Niinistö notes that while the new government doesn’t formally back down on the commitment to be carbon neutral by 2035, its policies are “leading away from that goal”. 

The new government plans to reduce tax on petrol by €100 million, and reduce vehicle taxes by €50 million. 

5. Finland’s international reputation could take a hit

In large part thanks to Sanna Marin’s profile, Finland has enjoyed unprecedented good press internationally over the last four years. 

From being the happiest country in the world to putting extra money into development aid for women and children when the Trump administration withdrew support, Finland has shored up its credentials as a reliable partner. 

But now there will be cuts to international aid, amounting to hundreds of millions of euros. Finland will also be less welcoming to asylum seekers and so-called ‘quota migrants.’  

And having a far-right party in power probably doesn’t do a lot to burnish Finland’s brand image as a friendly, welcoming country. 

Kokoomus MP Saara-Sofia Sirén says that in the new government programme, Finland “promotes the rights of women and girls across its foreign policy.” 

“The priorities of the government’s development policy are strengthening the status of women and girls, the right to self-determination, and sexual and reproductive health,” but doesn’t address whether budget cuts to international aid will impact the scope or scale of the services which Finland currently funds.



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Finland election: The issues making headlines on the campaign trail

The latest election polling in Finland is too close to call between the incumbent Social Democrats, the conservative National Coalition Party and the far-right nationalist Finns Party. 

Any one of those parties could find themselves in pole position to lead a new government when all the votes are counted. 

Every policy question is being closely scrutinised by the media, every media gaffe or public slip-up is being pounced upon, and the three main party leaders — Sanna Marin, Petteri Orpo, Riikka Purra — are under the microscope like never before. 

So what are some of the main policy strengths and weaknesses the parties face? 

This election season it’s more about traditional party ideology — left versus right — than values-based issues like the environment, equality, or even joining NATO, which is now done and dusted. 

Marin’s Social Democrats have been under fire from right-wing opponents for what they see as wasteful economic policies that have done nothing but add to Finland’s debt burden in an irresponsible way over the last four years. 

And Marin herself has come under fire for comments she made during a recent trip to Kyiv, and not just from rival politicians. Commercial television channel MTV3 wrote an editorial branding her “either completely ignorant or downright unscrupulous” for saying that Finland “could” talk about giving up its Hornet fighters to Ukraine, with the Nordic nation waiting for deliveries of their next generation fighters from the US starting in 2025. 

The country’s most-read newspaper Helsingin Sanomat went as far as to say the Hornet issue (Finnish politicians can be particularly prickly around discussions of national security) could tip the balance of Sunday’s election. 

There’s also regular criticism that Marin rarely — if ever — takes responsibility for policy missteps and instead likes to pass the blame on to her opponents (which, to be fair, is something that most politicians try to do!) 

The National Coalition Party — or Kokoomus as it’s known locally — has been criticised by politicians and economists who say its plans to balance the national budget simply don’t add up, and they’ll have to cut so deeply into basic services that it would hurt the lives of everyone in the country.

This week, economist Jussi Ahokas told public broadcaster Yle that Finland is “in a very good situation” compared to European countries when it comes to finances.

Kokoomus also has a problem that it’s seen by many — and repeatedly framed by Marin — as being too close to the far-right nationalists: and if you vote for Kokoomus, you’ll end up with a Finns Party government. 

For their part, the Finns Party are perennially dogged by allegations of racism and xenophobia among their candidates; they’ve promised to take Finland out of the EU in one manifesto, while at the same time also said that’s not their goal any more.

Their humourless leader Riikka Purra drew astonished gasps by saying on TV that culture was a “luxury” item – a hard sell in a country which revels in its rich literary, musical and visual arts scene: from small-town libraries to big international festivals and all points in between.

But what do election candidates on the streets, in the market places and in shopping centres talk to voters about?

Ahead of Sunday’s election, Euronews spoke with candidates on the campaign trail to find out which policies are most important to them, and where their opponents are falling short.

Finland’s Minister for Transport and Communications Timo Harakka tells Euronews that his political opponents have dropped the ball when it comes to education policies. 

“Kokoomus has been in charge through the 2010s when Finland cut education and research and development funding, and fell behind in percentage of college graduates. 

They broke their explicit promise not to cut education in 2015 and removed the right for every child to attend pre-school,” the Social Democrat MP explains.

“They opposed the Marin government’s school reform, which extended compulsory education until 18-years-old, just as they opposed equal comprehensive education back in the 1970s. 

“Again, now, they vow otherwise. They cannot make the cuts they propose without jeopardising our good school system,” he says. 

Green candidate Alviina Alametsä says that her party has put a particular focus on mental health services. 

“We are pushing different ways to prevent mental health issues including with universal basic income, and the wellbeing of nature,” she tells Euronews. 

Alametsä, who is one of Finland’s two Green MEPs in Brussels, says that programmes like one in Helsinki where three clinics provide therapy for free, are a good example of the concrete changes they’d like to see. 

“I am worried though, that if the National Coalition Party is making it to government, or if they are the prime minister, I am worried they will put a lot of cuts to education and mental health budgets, and to social security.”

“I think they are trying to push for economic growth from the wrong angle, and we have research to show this is not working.” 

National Coalition Party politician Sinuhe Wallinheimo represents a constituency in Central Finland, and says that other parties aren’t concerned enough about the economic “crisis” in Finland. 

“And by that I mean the amount of debt that Finland has right now, and what has to be done about it,” he tells Euronews. 

“I think in my party we are better at pro-market politics than the other ones. We rely on the state but we believe in pro-market and competition between individuals, and competition between the companies, which is better for society,” he adds. 

“When we discuss immigration policy, I believe our party understands the facts,” says Fatim Diarra, who is a Green League candidate in Helsinki. 

“We need people to come to Finland, but at the same time we cannot treat immigrants as cows we milk to put money into the system. But instead, we must see Finland as a place where we welcome people to build a life to suit their circumstances,” she tells Euronews.

Diarra, who missed out on a seat in parliament in the 2019 election by just 200 votes, says that people who come to Finland to make a better life for themselves need access to education and labour markets, and shouldn’t only be thought of as candidates for low paid jobs. 

“Some parties see immigration only as a tool to make people work for Finns. When I discuss this with people from some parties, they want immigrants to work in the service industry and health care.

“They see immigration as a cheap labour force, but this is not the way the Greens see it. Finland is a good country, our social structure is strong and we welcome people to come here and build a good life for themselves.” 

The city of Jyväskylä in Central Finland has traditionally been a bastion of support for the Centre Party, Keskusta. Once a powerhouse of Finnish politics, Keskusta has slumped dramatically over the last four years despite being in government, and they’re now polling their lowest ever numbers. 

They are predicted to lose up to ten seats on Sunday. 

MP Joonas Könttä, a former Finnish diplomat, says his party’s focus has been on “aluepolitikka” or regional policies. 

“We want to take care of the countryside and the cities, so the same level of services are available all over the country,” he tells Euronews. 

“No other parties are underlining the possibilities of the whole country.”



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