November 29, 2017 / 5:04 PM / 18 days ago

Joining NATO would help Finland's security but unlikely for now: finance minister

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Joining NATO would improve Finland’s security but is unlikely to happen any time soon because of a lack of wider support, Finance Minister Petteri Orpo said on Wednesday.

His National Coalition Party, part of a three-party ruling coalition, had a clear position that “NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security, and Finland should be part of all western institutions,” Orpo told Reuters.

Finland is one of six members of the European Union that have not also joined the Western military alliance.

It has forged closer ties with NATO in recent years over heightened security concerns in the Baltic Sea region, but has stayed out of the alliance in line with a tradition of avoiding confrontation with Russia, with which it shares an 833-mile (1,340 km) border and a difficult history.

“This government will not seek membership, and we are committed to that... When the next government will be formed, this issue will likely be considered again, taking into account the situation in the country and the security environment.”

A poll released by the Defence Ministry on Tuesday showed only 22 percent of Finns support NATO membership while 62 percent opposed it.

“Because a large majority of parliamentary parties, as well as of the citizens, do not support seeking a membership, the issue is not that topical.”

Orpo’s NCP (National Coalition Party) leads opinion polls with support of around 21 percent. The next general elections will be held in 2019. President Sauli Niinisto said last month that any move to join NATO would need public approval via a referendum.

Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell; Editing by Peter Graff

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