Sweden’s NATO bid delayed in Turkish parliament

Foreign affairs commission delays vote on Sweden’s NATO application after lawmakers express reservations.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson shake hands after a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey [File: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Handout via Reuters]

The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs commission has delayed a vote on Sweden’s NATO membership bid in a further setback to the Nordic country’s hopes of joining the Western alliance after 18 months of waiting.

Chairman Fuat Oktay said the commission will hold further talks and may bring the bill back on its agenda next week – but he did not set a clear timeline.

“For all of our lawmakers to approve Sweden’s NATO membership, they need to be fully convinced. We will discuss all of these in our [next] commission meeting [on the issue],” Oktay told reporters after hours of debate on Thursday.

The commission, which is controlled by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – can pass bills by a simple majority. It may invite the Swedish ambassador to brief lawmakers if needed and if parliament’s regulations allow, Oktay said.

Erdogan said this month that he would try to facilitate the ratification process, but added Sweden had not taken enough action on Kurdish armed groups.

For ratification, the bill needs to be approved by the commission before being put to a full parliament vote, which could come days or weeks later.

Erdogan would then sign it into law to conclude the process, the length of which has frustrated Ankara’s allies and tested its Western ties.

Sweden and Finland requested to join NATO in May last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In order to join the alliance, a candidate must be approved by all current members. While Finland’s accession was approved in April, Turkey and Hungary have yet to approve Sweden’s application for membership.

Turkey has demanded that Sweden take more steps to rein in local members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), considered a “terrorist” group by Ankara, the European Union and the United States.

In response, Stockholm introduced a new “anti-terrorism” bill that makes membership of a “terrorist” organisation illegal, while also lifting arms export restrictions on Turkey. It says that it has upheld its part of a deal signed last year.

Lawmakers not convinced

Despite comments by Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akcapar outlining the measures taken by Sweden, lawmakers from both the ruling AK Party and the opposition voiced reservations and, in a rare move, delayed the vote.

“I value NATO’s enlargement. However, we must remove some of the controversies in our minds. Sweden has become a safe haven, or a heaven, for some terrorist organisations,” said Ali Sahin, a lawmaker from the AK Party. “We find the steps Sweden has taken until now valuable, but we don’t find them sufficient.”

NATO members Finland, Canada and the Netherlands also took steps to relax arms-export policies towards Turkey during the process, while the White House said it would move ahead with the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in consultation with the US Congress.

While there is no clear timeframe on approving the purchase request for the F-16s, Ankara has linked the issue to Sweden’s bid. On Thursday, Oktay repeated Erdogan’s view that “if they have a Congress, we have a parliament”.

Some analysts say Turkey’s parliament could fully ratify the bid by the time of a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on November 28-29.

The delay comes as Ankara has been at odds with its Western allies over the conflict in Gaza, while its tough diplomacy over the war in Ukraine has also irked some allies. Ankara maintains good relations with Moscow and Kyiv, opposing Russia’s invasion but also the Western sanctions on Russia.

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this month that he would try to facilitate the ratification process, but added Sweden had not taken enough action on Kurdish militants [File: Leonhard Foeger/Reuters]

US ‘confident’ Sweden will join

While NATO member Hungary has also not ratified Sweden’s membership, Turkey is seen as the main roadblock to Sweden’s accession.

Later on Thursday, the US ambassador to Hungary said he had been assured by the Hungarian government that Budapest would not be the last to ratify Sweden’s bid, adding he was “confident” Stockholm would soon be a NATO member.

“I have been repeatedly assured at the senior-most levels of this government that Hungary will not be last to ratify Sweden’s accession to NATO,” Ambassador David Pressman said.

Source: News Agencies