Sweden Moves a Step Closer to NATO Membership after Turkey’s Parliamentary Committee Gives Approval

Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP, File
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, right, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on prior to a meeting ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, July 10, 2023.

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee gave its consent to Sweden’s bid to join NATO on Tuesday, drawing the previously nonaligned Nordic country closer to membership in the Western military alliance.

Sweden’s accession protocol will now need to be approved in the Turkish parliament’s general assembly for the last stage of the legislative process in Turkey. No date has been set.

Turkey, a NATO member, has delayed ratification of Sweden’s membership for more than a year, accusing the country of being too lenient toward groups that Ankara regards as threats to its security, including Kurdish militants and members of a network that Ankara blames for a failed coup in 2016.

The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee had begun discussing Sweden’s membership in NATO last month. But the meeting was adjourned after legislators from Erdogan’s ruling party submitted a motion for a postponement on grounds that some issues needed more clarification and that negotiations with Sweden hadn’t “matured” enough.

On Tuesday, the committee resumed its deliberations and a large majority of legislators in the committee voted in favor of Sweden’s application to join.

Briefing the committee members before the vote, Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akcapar cited steps Sweden had taken steps to meet Turkish demands, including lifting restrictions on defense industry sales and amending anti-terrorism laws in ways that “no one could have imaged five or six years ago.”

“It is unrealistic to expect that the Swedish authorities will immediately fulfill all of our demands. This is a process, and this process requires long-term and consistent effort,” he said, adding that Turkey would continue to monitor Sweden’s progress.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström welcomed the committee’s decision on a message posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“The next step is for parliament to vote on the matter. We look forward to becoming a member of NATO,” he tweeted.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the development, saying that he counts on Turkey and Hungary “to now complete their ratifications as soon as possible. Sweden’s membership will make NATO stronger.”

Hungary has also stalled Sweden’s bid, alleging that Swedish politicians have told “blatant lies” about the condition of Hungary’s democracy. Hungary hasn’t announced when the country’s ratification may occur.

Earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had openly linked ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership to the U.S. Congress’ approval of a Turkish request to purchase 40 new F-16 fighter jets and kits to modernize Turkey’s existing fleet.

Erdogan also also called on Canada and other NATO allies to life arms embargoes imposed on Turkey.

The White House has backed the Turkish F-16 request but there is opposition in Congress to military sales to Turkey.

Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Finland joined the alliance in April, becoming NATO’s 31st member, after Turkey’s parliament ratified the Nordic country’s bid.

NATO requires the unanimous approval of all existing members to expand, and Turkey and Hungary are the only countries that have been holding out.

The delays have frustrated other NATO allies who were swift to accept Sweden and Finland into the alliance.