NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Sunday called on Turkey to abandon its opposition to Sweden’s bid to join the US-led military alliance, saying that Sweden has successfully fulfilled its obligations concerning Turkey’s demands.
Stoltenberg, speaking after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul, emphasised that Sweden’s membership would enhance the security of both Sweden and NATO, as well as strengthen Turkey.
The Secretary-General noted that Sweden has made constitutional amendments, strengthened anti-terrorism legislation, and lifted its arms embargo on Turkey, in accordance with the trilateral memorandum signed by Turkey, Finland and Sweden in June 2022 in which Turkey laid down a number of conditions for ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership.
Turkey’s objection to Sweden’s membership is rooted in an accusation Erdoğan has levelled against the Nordic country of harbouring individuals Turkey considers terrorists, particularly Kurdish activists allegedly linked to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), and among its other conditions for lifting the veto it has called for the extradition of people whom it defines as terrorists.
As a result of the trilateral memorandum, Sweden recently enacted a new anti-terrorism law, raising concerns among the public about its potential impact on civil liberties and the Kurdish community in the country. Critics argue that the broadened scope of the law, which criminalises activities such as handling equipment, organising camps, or providing transport for terrorist organisations, can be exploited to suppress democratic activities.
Both Finland and Sweden submitted formal applications to join NATO in May 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of the same year. However, Turkey strongly opposed the membership requests of the Nordic countries, citing both countries’ alleged support for the PKK. Although Turkey eventually approved Finland’s membership in March, it continues to veto Sweden’s accession.
Finland finally joined NATO at the beginning of April, but Sweden has been keenly awaiting endorsement from both Turkey and Hungary. A meeting scheduled for 11-12 June, which will include representatives from Turkey, Finland, and Sweden, aims to advance Sweden’s NATO membership bid.
Ultimately, the decision to admit Sweden into NATO lies in the hands of all 31 member countries, as each must ratify the candidate’s accession protocol.
In a previous interview by CNN ahead of the presidential election run-off in Turkey, Erdoğan indicated that he would further delay a decision on Sweden’s membership, saying that Turkey was “not ready for Sweden.”
Meanwhile, a demonstration in Stockholm on Sunday saw thousands protesting against Sweden’s accession to NATO and expressing their opposition to the recently enacted anti-terror law.