German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Monday that Sweden “can count” on other European countries to come to its defense in the event of a Russian attack, even though the country is not a member of the NATO military alliance.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson in Berlin, Scholz noted that the EU had built a mutual assistance clause into its core treaty. He said that clause would be “taken very seriously” if it came to an attack against Sweden.
“When it comes down to it, it can be relied upon,” Scholz added.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has triggered fears in Sweden and Finland that they could be the next target of an attack from Moscow, particularly as neither country is a member of NATO, which has a mutual defense pact at its heart.
Earlier this month, Andersson and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin wrote a letter to European Council President Charles Michel stressing that “EU leaders must be very united and clear about the fact that the EU is also a security community for its member states” and that the EU’s own mutual defense clause “is an essential part of this.”
Scholz’s remarks indicated Berlin agrees with that assessment. However, how much the EU could do to defend Sweden is open to question, given that — unlike NATO — it does not include the military superpower United States, or the United Kingdom, one of the Continent’s few military heavyweights.
Germany’s own armed forces have been underequipped for years, and Scholz recently announced a massive boost in defense spending to try to reverse years of neglect in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The EU clause says that if a member of the European Union is the victim of “armed aggression on its territory,” other states have an “obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power.”
Speaking alongside Scholz on Monday, Andersson made clear that such assistance should include military help, if needed. She stressed that Sweden would offer such aid if another EU member came under attack.
“Since we joined the EU, we are no longer really neutral, because there is this solidarity clause,” Andersson said. “So if an EU country were attacked or there was a crisis there, we would no longer be neutral: We would support that country. That could include sending troops.”
On the question of possible NATO membership, Andersson said that Sweden saw “that the security situation has changed” and that political parties were now discussing the implications of this.
“Depending on the outcome of this debate, we will see what is the best way forward for Sweden,” she said.
Andersson’s Swedish Social Democratic Party has so far been skeptical about joining NATO.
Charles Duxbury in Stockholm contributed reporting.