18:30 GMT29 November 2020
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    It took Finnish MPs two years to find out about a secret agreement concerning strengthened defence cooperation with neighbouring Sweden and NATO. A senior MP has described it as thing that “should not be repeated”.

    The Finnish Parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committees plan to voice their displeasure over key information about their country's cooperation with Sweden and NATO being withheld from them, national broadcaster Yle reported.

    The committee members claim they were kept in the dark about an agreement drawn up between Finland, Sweden and NATO in 2018 which boosted information exchange and dialogue in crisis situations, despite the fact that foreign and security policy matters, as well as military cooperation are within their respective committees' jurisdiction.

    According to the agreement, which in government circles has been referred to as an “arrangement”, Finland, Sweden and NATO can separately agree to increased information exchange and dialogue in times of crises, Yle reported. The country holding the information or the military alliance would be able to decide whether or not to share it.

    However, despite the arrangement being agreed upon in 2018, neither committee found out about it until February of this year. According to Yle's informed sources, its terms had never previously been disclosed to MPs and even the very existence of the arrangement had not been previously publicised. The arrangement was reportedly classified as “secret” by NATO and was assigned the highest security classification in Finland.

    A Yle source described withholding information from the committees as a serious matter. In effect, parliament did not know everything that Finland was committed to.

    When the arrangement was concluded, Timo Soini was Foreign Minister and Jussi Niinistö was Defence Minister. Since then, Soini has quit politics, whereas Niinistö has switched parties. The then-government led by former ex-Centre Party leader Juha Sipilä was privy to the arrangement, as was the current government led by Sanna Marin of the Social Democrats.

    Both committees have yet to evaluate the implications of the arrangement in political and military terms. The analysis has been slowed down by the novel coronavirus epidemic. However, the committees say they are planning a joint statement to the Constitutional Law Committee on Parliament’s right of access to information.

    One anonymous source described the arrangement as “harmless” and underlined “mutual benefits”. Another one ventured it was not as significant as the Host Nation agreement, which lays the foundation for technical compatibility in case Finland receives NATO troops during drills or in crisis situations.

    Nevertheless, former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, deputy chair of the foreign affairs committee, hinted at his displeasure in a Facebook post. While calling the overall performance “commendable”, he said there was a “more serious case that should not be repeated”.

    Finland and Sweden, while formally non-aligned, have both in recent years been drawn closer to NATO, having stepped up cooperation with the US as well. Pundits described this peculiar state as “post-neutral” and “pre-allied”.


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