Sweden and Finland continue NATO talks with Turkey

Sweden and Finland continue NATO talks with Turkey

VBefore the meeting between Turkey, Sweden and Finland this Thursday in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg once again tried to spread confidence. The question is not whether Sweden will become a member of NATO, but when, he said on Tuesday evening in Stockholm. Turkey has legitimate security concerns. But Sweden has fulfilled its part of the agreement. It was now time to complete the ratification process for NATO accession.

Julian Staib

Political correspondent for northern Germany and Scandinavia based in Hamburg.

Sweden and Finland have long been ready to take this step. In May 2022, as a result of the Russian war of aggression, they submitted their applications to join NATO, abandoning a long tradition of non-alignment. Most recently, both states also adjusted their legislation so that they can become part of the defense alliance directly once all NATO members have agreed to the alliance’s northern expansion.

Last week, the Finnish parliament voted by a large majority for a law that is necessary for joining NATO. Such a bill was presented to the Swedish Riksdag on Tuesday, and the parliament is expected to vote on it in the coming weeks. From the point of view of both countries, it is the last step in the accession process. But the real decision falls elsewhere.

Hungary and Turkey still do not agree. A delegation from the Hungarian Parliament was in Helsinki on Wednesday. The deputy speaker of the Hungarian parliament said on the occasion that all but one of the parties in his homeland were in favor of Finland joining NATO. He had also made the same statement the day before in Stockholm. There it was said afterwards that the delegation had left the good news that Hungary would probably agree to the motions by the end of March.

The dispute escalated with a burning Koran

The situation is different in the case of Turkey. As far as Finland’s application for membership is concerned, Ankara was sympathetic. An early ratification is therefore likely. As for Sweden, it is still unclear if, and if so when, Ankara will approve the request. It had long been said in Stockholm that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would play the usual game until the parliamentary and presidential elections, which are scheduled for mid-May, and thrash an opponent abroad in order to gain approval at home. This time it’s Sweden’s turn. But things will change after the elections.

But after a Kurdish group hung an Erdogan doll in front of Stockholm City Hall and after a Koran was burned in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, the dispute escalated.

It is clear that those who enabled such a disgrace in front of Turkey’s embassy could no longer expect goodwill regarding their desire to join NATO, Erdogan said afterwards. And: Sweden will “be shocked when it sees our answer”. The trilateral talks have been suspended. In Stockholm and Helsinki there was speculation that Finland would initially join the EU alone – which would mean a departure from the previously postulated path (“hand in hand”).

Only after a visit by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to Ankara on February 20, during which Turkey’s requests for a delivery of F-16 fighter jets were discussed, did things start to move again. The trilateral talks in Brussels will continue this Thursday.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said that his government’s goal is still for Sweden to become a member of the defense alliance before the NATO summit in Vilnius in mid-July. “Sweden did its part.” Kristersson made a similar statement. Sweden has fulfilled all the points of the agreement with Turkey and Finland, said Sweden’s Prime Minister on Tuesday evening. He was referring to the trilateral memorandum with Turkey, in which the two Nordic countries address Ankara’s security concerns.

The Supreme Court prohibited extraditions

As a result, Sweden has tightened its terror legislation, and since then more activities can be prosecuted by the police than before. Furthermore, a ban on arms exports to Turkey was lifted, and as agreed, Sweden is examining Turkey’s extradition requests for people whom Ankara accuses of being “terrorists” and having links to the PKK Workers’ Party or the Gülen movement.

However, so far no one has been extradited from Sweden to Turkey who is on the lists published by pro-government Turkish media. Many of the people are Swedish citizens; in several cases, the Swedish Supreme Court prohibited extradition. Sweden can therefore not move any further towards Turkey in this matter.

If there is now a breakthrough in the negotiations, this is unlikely to be due to further Swedish concessions, but rather to the influence that NATO partners have had on Ankara.

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