In a surprising turn of events, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s said on Monday that his country should be allowed in the European Union before they could approve Sweden’s bid for NATO membership. The announcement came as a shock to everyone, if only for a few hours, since on the same day, the President has reportedly agreed to forward Sweden‘s accession protocol to the Grand National Assembly.
„First, let us clear Turkey’s way in the European Union, then let us clear the way for Sweden, just as we paved the way for Finland”, Erdogan said at a news conference on Monday. He added that it was time to do something regarding Turkey’s long-stalled bid to join the European Union.
Turkey has been waiting at the gate of the European Union for over 50 years now”, he stated, adding that „almost all NATO member countries are European member countries.
Turkey has repeatedly voiced its concerns over Sweden and has said that in return for giving the green light to Sweden, they would need some guarantees from the Scandinavians as well.
However, things took a turn on Monday when Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, after which Erdogan has reportedly agreed to forward Sweden‘s accession protocol to the Grand National Assembly for ratification.
Currently, Hungary and Turkey are the only governments that have not ratified Sweden’s request for application to NATO. Turkey cited concerns about Kurdish terror groups operating in Sweden, namely the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Another issue is the anti-Islam protests, which Turkey says the Swedish government has been complicit in.
In June, Swedish authorities approved a small Quran-burning demonstration outside a mosque in Stockholm. The event coincided with Eid-al-Adha, an important Muslim holiday.
According to reports, Sweden authorized the protest due to freedom of speech, but this move only further angered Turkey.
The question now is what changed Turkey’s mind, what they got in return for allowing Sweden’s application to go forward. Although it is not realistic for Turkey to expect that the country suddenly becomes a member of the European Union, experts say that certain concessions from the EU towards Turkey are conceivable. Asli Aydintasbas, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, told CNN that Erdogan’s wording was vague, so opening the door to the EU could mean anything from upgrading the free trade agreement to just political statements of support.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph has reported that
the United States will lift the ban on the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in exchange for Sweden’s NATO membership.
Turkey had requested in October 2021 to buy $20 billion of Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16 fighters and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.
Besides Turkey, Hungary has also voiced concerns over Sweden’s bid to join the defense alliance, and the parliament has yet to ratify Sweden’s request. The main reason behind this is that Swedish-Hungarian relations are currently somewhat rocky as Stockholm has joined an international legal challenge against Budapest’s child protection legislation. However, at the Government Info press conference Gergely Gulyás, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office, said last week that
Hungary has promised not to block Sweden’s accession to NATO, although this would not be unjustified for several reasons.
After Jens Stoltenberg announced on Twitter that Erdogan has agreed to move forward in Sweden’s accession, Hungarian President Katalin Novák also took to Twitter and welcomed the decision. She added that she has also asked Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to ensure that the parliament also ensures NATO’s enlargement.
Featured photo via Twitter/Recep Tayyip Erdogan