As opposed to previous Finnish governments, which have advocated staying loyal to the policy of non-alignment, incumbent President Sauli Niinistö has called Finland's NATO membership a "possibility" during a Q&A session this past weekend, national broadcaster Yle reported.
The Finnish president stressed that Europe has come to realize it was not untouchable. At the same time, he stressed that Finland's essential position is that it would not engage in any conflicts.
While formally maintaining its non-alignment, Finland has in recent years gotten into the habit of participating in NATO meetings along with its Western neighbor Sweden, while also participating in joint military drills and crisis management exercises. In the meantime, Finland has also signed bilateral defense pacts with Sweden, the UK and the US in an attempt to bolster its defense via international efforts.
While Niinistö himself rejected the notion that these measures reflect Finland's re-alignment toward NATO, This is sometimes perceived as tokens of Finland drifting farther away from its policy of neutrality it has been following since the post-WWII era. At present, the center-right National Coalition Party and the liberal-centrist Swedish People's Party are in favor of joining NATO, while the Christian Democrats believe in keeping the door open. By contrast, the right-wing Finns party, the Center Party and the left-wing parties are all in favor of staying out.
Historically, popular opposition to NATO has been high in Finland. According to a June poll by the Uusi Suomi online newspaper, only 20 percent of Finns backed Finland's membership in the military alliance, with 50 percent holding a negative view of the organization. The support for joining NATO is highest among men aged 60 to 69 who have an above-average income.
READ MORE: Finns Disenchanted With NATO, Enamored By EU
However, one-third of Finns would be willing to change their mind, should President Sauli Niinistö throw his weight behind it, a recent survey by Taloustutkimus indicated.
Niinistö, who earlier this year was re-elected for a second term with the overwhelming support of his compatriots, turned 70 recently and enjoys unwavering public support. In a recent poll commissioned by Yle, Niinistö was given an 8.5 approval grade on a ten-point scale. Only 4 percent of those surveyed gave Niinistö thumbs-down grades.
(a tweet by Niinistö thanking his supporters for massive birthday congratulations).