Why did Turkey decide to support Sweden’s NATO membership?

Sweden has moved closer to joining NATO after the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee approved a protocol for the Nordic country’s membership in the military alliance. Turkey’s opposition to Sweden’s membership stemmed from its perceived softness towards supporters of Kurdish militants and other groups in Sweden that Ankara views as security threats.

The Nordic country has taken steps to tighten its anti-terrorism laws, making support for extremist organizations punishable by up to eight years in prison. However, a series of anti-Turkey and anti-Islam protests held in Stockholm, some of which involved the burning of the Quran, has angered Erdogan’s government and the Turkish public.

The Turkish government has expressed criticism towards Sweden for allowing anti-Muslim sentiment to be displayed. Sweden strengthened its antiterrorism laws to address Ankara’s security concerns, and NATO agreed to establish a special coordinator for counterterrorism and appointed Assistant Secretary General Tom Goffus to the position.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced Sweden’s support for Turkey’s EU accession process, including improved customs arrangements and visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens. The protocol needs full assembly approval, and it remains to be seen how quickly it will be addressed by the floor.

Turkey’s EU membership talks stalled in 2018 due to its democratic backsliding and poor human rights record. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked Sweden’s NATO membership to Ankara’s efforts to purchase US-made F-16 fighter jets and called on NATO allies to lift arms embargoes on Turkey. The approval by the parliamentary committee paves the way for Sweden’s accession protocol to be debated and ratified by the general assembly, which would then have to be signed off by Erdogan. The decision rests with lawmakers, as Erdogan’s ruling party and its allies command a majority in the 600-seat parliament.

However, Erdogan has said the decision rests with lawmakers, as his ruling party’s nationalist allies remain uneasy with Sweden’s membership and accuse NATO members of indifference toward the PKK threat to Turkey. Kurdish militants killed 12 soldiers in Iraq, sparking potential opposition from Islamist parties due to Western nations’ silence on Israel’s military actions in Gaza.

Hungary’s Fidesz party, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has stalled Sweden’s NATO bid since July 2022, accusing Swedish politicians of lying about Hungary’s democracy. However, Orbán and his senior officials have not provided any redress for their reservations over Sweden joining the military alliance. Critics argue Hungary is using its veto power to leverage concessions from the European Union, which has frozen billions in funds to Budapest over minority rights and the rule of law.

Hungarian officials have stated that Hungary will not be the last NATO member to endorse Sweden’s bid, but Ankara’s ratification suggests that the time for further holdups may be running out. Opposition politicians in Hungary argue that Orbán’s party is following Ankara’s timetable and will vote to approve Sweden’s bid once it seems clear that Turkey will do the same.

NATONATO membershipSwedenTurkeyWhy did Turkey decide to support Sweden's NATO membership?