The process of Turkey’s approval of Sweden’s accession to NATO is close to the final step, after the Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee approved the Scandinavian country’s accession protocol on Tuesday.
Parliament is expected to discuss the protocol later this week, before a final vote on it.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party enjoys a parliamentary majority, along with its coalition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Bjöllström welcomed the parliamentary committee’s decision, in a post on the X platform, and wrote: “The next step is for Parliament to vote on this issue… We look forward to becoming a member of NATO.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the Turkish decision, and said, according to statements reported by the Associated Press, that he relies on Turkey and Hungary “to complete their ratification as soon as possible… Sweden’s membership will make NATO stronger.”
In the following lines, we review the reasons for postponing Sweden’s decision to join NATO, the explanation for Turkey’s current decision to approve, and what are the next steps.
Why did Türkiye postpone the ratification decision?
The Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee began discussing the Swedish accession request last month, but the meeting was postponed after representatives from Erdogan’s party presented a proposal to postpone, on the grounds that some issues needed further clarification, and that the negotiations with Sweden were not “mature” enough. Enough.
Turkey’s decision to initially oppose Sweden’s accession came because Ankara considered Stockholm to be too “lenient” regarding supporters of Kurdish militants and other groups in Sweden, which Turkey considers to pose security threats to it.
The Turkish Parliament pushes Sweden’s accession to NATO to the “final stage”
The Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee approved the protocol for Sweden’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), on Tuesday, after two hours of negotiations, according to what Turkish media reported.
Among these are figures linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Ankara considers a terrorist group and has been waging an insurgency against Turkey for 39 years, along with other people allegedly linked to a 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan, according to the Associated Press.
Last year, the two countries, along with Finland, reached an agreement to address Ankara’s security concerns. Indeed, Sweden has begun steps to tighten anti-terrorism laws, allowing supporters of extremist organizations to be punished with imprisonment for a period of up to 8 years.
However, these efforts were interrupted by the incident of burning the Qur’an in Sweden, which sparked great feelings of anger in Turkey and other Islamic countries, and caused strong criticism from the Ankara government of Sweden.
Why did the Turkish position change?
Sweden worked on amendments to anti-terrorism laws to address Turkey’s security concerns, in addition to NATO agreeing to appoint a special counter-terrorism coordinator.
In statements during the NATO summit last July, Stoltenberg said that Sweden had agreed to “support efforts to revitalize Turkey’s accession process to the European Union.”
The Scandinavian country also announced that it will work to improve customs procedures and take steps to reach the decision to cancel European visas for Turkish citizens.
Turkey’s accession talks to the European Union were halted in 2018, due to what was described as the country’s “poor record in the field of human rights,” according to the Associated Press.
Biden and Erdogan discussed Sweden’s application to join NATO
John Kirby, White House spokesman for national security affairs, said Thursday that US President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone about NATO and Sweden’s request to join the alliance.
Earlier this month, the Turkish President linked the ratification of Sweden’s membership in NATO to the US Congress’ approval of Ankara’s request to purchase 40 new F-16 fighter planes and equipment to modernize the current Turkish fleet. He also called on Canada and other NATO allies to lift the arms embargo on Türkiye.
The White House had supported Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighters, but there is strong opposition in Congress regarding military sales to Ankara.
What will Hungary do?
NATO requires unanimous approval from all current members to include a new member, and Turkey and Hungary are the only two countries to take an opposing position.
Hungary blocked Sweden’s efforts to join, arguing that Swedish politicians told “blatant lies” about the state of democracy in Hungary. Budapest did not reveal the possible date of its ratification of Stockholm’s accession.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, did not talk about any demands in exchange for Sweden’s approval to join NATO.
The Associated Press reported that some critics explained that Hungary was “using that card to extract concessions from the European Union, which has frozen billions in Budapest funds over concerns about minority rights and the rule of law.”
Hungarian officials had previously announced that their country “will not be the last country to approve Sweden’s request to join NATO,” but Turkey’s approach to ratification now makes Hungary run out of time before making a decision instead of further obstruction.
The agency explained that there are opposition politicians in Hungary who believe that Orban “is following Ankara’s timetable, and as soon as Turkey completes the approval, Hungary will do the same thing.”