What Turkey’s elections mean for Sweden’s NATO membership

Turkey’s voters head to the polls on Sunday in an election that will not only determine the country’s domestic policies but could also influence Sweden’s NATO membership.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Finland and Sweden abandoned decades of military neutrality and applied a year ago to join the world’s largest military alliance in an effort to fortify their borders.

While most NATO members were quick to ratify the two Nordic nations’ membership applications, Turkey and Hungary held back.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused both countries, especially Sweden, of providing safe haven to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, both of which Ankara considers “terrorists”.

Erdogan also called on Finland and Sweden to lift an arms embargo on Turkey they had imposed in 2019 after Ankara’s incursion into northern Syria.

He said these were important “security concerns” for Turkey that had to be resolved before he agreed to NATO’s enlargement.

The three nations signed an agreement on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid last year, in which Finland and Sweden pledged to address Turkey’s security demands.

Since then, Finland and Sweden have lifted the arms embargo, focussed on extraditing suspects with links to the PKK, and Stockholm has passed an anti-terrorism law.

But Turkey has only ratified Finland’s NATO membership. Erdogan has said Sweden has not yet met all of his country’s demands.

Right-wing demonstrations in Sweden involving the burning of the Quran and a mock hanging of Erdogan led to further tensions, and their NATO dialogue has stalled.

After a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin in March, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told reporters that he hoped Turkey would ratify Sweden’s NATO membership after the elections.

Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt shared a similar view.

“With Turkey, we have signed a memorandum where we were required to address some demands, which Stockholm has done everything it can to address,” he told Al Jazeera.

“But currently, nothing in terms of any ratification is happening until we have clarity on who’s going to govern Turkey for the next few years,” he said. “So we are looking forward to what happens after the elections and hope there will be a speedy ratification before the NATO summit in Lithuania in July.”

Bildt added that Turkey’s decision will also influence Hungary. Budapest followed Ankara’s lead in the case of Finland.

“Hungary’s Viktor Orban claimed that Finland and Sweden’s accusations of Budapest’s rule of law was one of the main reasons behind Hungary holding back their NATO membership ratification, but Orban is just playing a political game,” Bildt said, speaking of the Hungarian prime minister.

Gonul Tol, director of the Middle East Institute’s Turkey Programme and author of Erdogan’s War: A Strongman’s Struggle at Home and in Syria, told Al Jazeera that part of the reason the Turkish leader has dragged his feet on Sweden is for domestic gains.

“His role in getting both Finland and Sweden to lift sanctions they had imposed on Turkey after its incursion into Syria and getting especially Sweden to try and extradite PKK members has appealed to nationalist voters,” she said.


Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.