Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan revealed during a press conference today, Monday, before departing for the NATO summit on 10-12 July in Lithuania, that he wishes to revive Turkey’s European Union (EU) membership process and that he has called on Brussels to clear the path for the country’s accession to the EU in exchange for ratification of Sweden’s NATO bid.
Erdoğan emphasised that the majority of NATO member countries are already EU members and said that Turkey has been waiting at the gates of the EU for over 50 years.
He further asserted that if the countries that have kept Turkey waiting for so long would be prepared to pave the way to Turkish EU membership, Sweden’s entry to NATO would follow.
This new demand by Erdoğan, indicating a surprising shift in Turkey’s NATO bargain, came after the Swedish Foreign Minister earlier today expressed optimism regarding Turkey dropping its objections to their NATO membership, stating that it was only a matter of time. The Turkish President is expected to meet with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Monday evening before the NATO summit for further discussions.
The non-aligned countries Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Finland’s membership was approved in April this year, but Turkey’s opposition to Sweden’s NATO aspirations has caused a stalemate in the process for that country.
Erdoğan has presented certain conditions for Sweden’s membership, including a crackdown on Kurdish groups in Sweden and the extradition of individuals deemed by Turkey to be terrorists.
Sweden has been actively working to fulfill Turkey’s requirements by making significant changes to its constitution, enacting new counterterrorism laws, and agreeing to extradite a number of Turkish individuals facing accusations in Turkey.
Despite Sweden’s efforts, Erdoğan maintained that Sweden needed to do more to satisfy the demands put forth by Turkey.
In response to Erdoğan, who presented a new agenda and fresh demands to NATO countries less than 24 hours before the summit, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Lithuania that he backs Turkey’s aspiration to join the EU. However, he clarified that Turkey’s EU membership was not among the conditions established by officials from Turkey, Sweden, and Finland at the NATO summit in Madrid last year.
Stoltenberg emphasised that the agreement made in Madrid outlined a specific set of conditions that Sweden had to fulfil to become a full member of the alliance. He affirmed that Sweden has successfully met these conditions, highlighting their progress in meeting the requirements.
Turkey has a long history of pursuing EU membership, applying in 1987 and becoming a candidate country in 1999. Formal negotiations with the EU began in 2005 but stalled in 2016 due to concerns from European countries regarding Turkish human rights violations.