HELSINKI, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) -- A latest Finnish opinion poll indicates that Finnish public opinion increasingly shares the country's policy preference that underlines security networking without a formal membership in NATO.
In a survey released on Wednesday by the pro-business think tank EVA, the public backing for joining NATO has continued declining. The support level was now 23 percent, a drop from 25 percent in 2017 and 27 percent in 2016. 46 percent were opposed and 31 percent did not take a stand.
While the support levels for joining NATO remained under 15 percent in the early 2010s, there was an increase after the Crimean crisis in 2014.
Although Finland is not a member of NATO, it has a wide array of partnership agreements both with NATO and the member countries. In the poll, 47 percent of Finns agreed that the U.S. is an important companion.
Heikki Patomaki, professor of international politics at the Helsinki University, said that the enhanced companionship is probably a better solution for both NATO and Finland. Talking to newspaper Kansan Uutiset, he noted that Finland is already so deeply involved in NATO military structures that the actual membership is not essential.
Patomaki assessed that the present situation also matches the Russian interests. "Russia can consider Finland to some extent a non-aligned country," Patomaki said. He wondered, though, how close to NATO Finland can go without a formal membership.
Mika Aaltola, program director of the Finnish Institute for International Affairs, said that as an actual NATO member Finland would assume a larger collective role in the neighborhood of Russia. In that situation, Finland could face counter measures such as troop deployment closer to Finland.
Patomaki noted that Finnish President Sauli Niinisto has adopted a balancing statesman's role and has slowed down the process towards a possible membership. Patomaki admitted that he did not expect a "turnaround".
The polls reflect remarkable level of backing for NATO among conservative voters. When combined with political convictions, the support for joining NATO is largest among the conservative National Coalition Party voters and the Swedish Party voters, at around 55 percent.
Finland became a NATO partner for peace in 1994, a member of the NATO Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1997, and an Enhanced Opportunities Partner in 2014.
Also in 2014, Finland signed a host country agreement for troops with NATO. These have been followed by several bilateral agreements with the U.S. and other NATO countries. Finland cooperates closely with Sweden that is not in NATO either.