Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has submitted Sweden’s bid to Turkey’s parliament for the first time. The move happened Monday, at a moment the globe’s attention has switched from Russia-Ukraine to the Israel-Gaza war, and has brought Stockholm’s entrance into the alliance a big step closer.
“The Protocol on Sweden’s NATO Accession was signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 23, 2023 and referred to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey,” the Turkish presidency announced on social media. Turkey under Erdogan has been the most outspoken in blocking Sweden’s bid, having long complained that it harbors ‘terrorists’ – due to the large Kurdish population which often organizes anti-Turkey protests and political movements.
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson enthusiastically welcomed the development in Stockholm’s favor. “Welcome that President Erdoğan signed Sweden’s ratification protocol to NATO and submitted it to the Grand National Assembly of [Turkey]. Parliamentary procedures will now commence. We are looking forward to becoming a member of NATO.”
Hungary has been the only other country which has resisted giving approval, which relates to a diplomatic spat with Sweden over criticism of the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, also related to what’s seen as Budapest’s ‘closeness’ to Russia and Putin.
But like it did with Finland, Hungary is likely to follow suit in approving Sweden now that Turkey has dropped its objections. On Tuesday its foreign ministry said Hungary will made a “sovereign decision” on the contentious issue.
Starting last spring, Sweden agreed to begin extraditing Turkish nationals in Sweden who are wanted by the Erdogan government. Ankara really tightened the screws on this issue, and Sweden has been playing ball, after initially emphasizing that it will not violate human rights or free speech/assembly protections.
Also last spring, Swedish parliament strengthen anti-terror laws in line with Turkish requests. As the Associated Press reported at the time:
The revision includes a prison term of up to four years for individuals convicted of participating in an extremist organization in a way that is intended to promote, strengthen or support the group. However, the penalty can be increased to eight years when a crime is deemed serious.
The legislation allows for someone identified as a leader of a terror organization to receive a life sentence, which in Sweden generally means a minimum of 20-25 years.
It remains that what Turkey sees as an “extremist organization” is different than how Sweden approaches the issue. Turkish officials have long bitterly complained even if Kurdish groups exercise their right to free speech and so much as make anti-Erdogan posters and slogans.
The other aspect behind Erdogan’s decision to finally move forward with approving Sweden’s accession is the Biden White House’s recently agreeing to a major F-16 purchase, some resistance in Congress notwithstanding. The deal, expected to be worth $20 billion, is dependent on whether Turkey finally approves Sweden’s bid. Objectors in Congress are expected to soften now that Turkey has moved forward Sweden’s NATO bid. But there’s still the thorny issue of Turkey’s cross-border attacks on Syrian Kurdish groups which are backed by the US.