Six of Finland’s seven presidential hopefuls participated in a debate organised by the Finnish Business and Policy Forum (Eva). It was the first of a series of debates scheduled for this autumn.

Candidates were asked about their position on whether Finland should apply for membership in Nato.

As reported by The Helsinki Times, Nils Torvalds, the candidate of the Swedish People’s Party, stressed that policymakers should use their own judgement instead of shunning responsibility by putting the membership up for a referendum. He said decision-makers “have no right to hide behind a referendum”.

“I’m firmly of the opinion that the public’s views are what they are because we’ve been avoiding this discussion,” said Torvalds. He is the only presidential candidate who is openly in favour of joining Nato.

Torvalds views were criticised by President Sauli Niinistö and Matti Vanhanen, the presidential candidate of the Centre Party.

Vanhanen argued that Finland should join Nato only if it has a clear mandate to do so from the public. Niinistö said the rules of the alliance stipulate that aspiring member states must have the support of the majority of the public and political parties to join the alliance.

“This is so that also the part of the public who disagree can accept the decision because it was the will of the majority,” said Niinistö, adding that it is “ridiculous” to suggest decision-makers would be shunning responsibility by putting the issue up for a referendum.

“Nils, it’s not about shunning responsibility,” he responded to his rival candidate. “It’s a question of whether or not we care about what the general public feel.”

Pekka Haavisto, the presidential candidate of the Green League, said he is personally not in favour of the membership. He spoke about the risks associated with referendums, such as possible attempts by foreign states to influence the results.