by Aurelie Pugnet and Charles Szumski
Turkey’s parliament approved Sweden’s accession bid to become the 32nd member of NATO on Tuesday (23 January), leaving Hungary as the final hurdle to overcome on the Nordic country’s way to full membership.
The Turkish Grand National Assembly approved Sweden’s candidacy late in the evening, following hours of debates, with an overwhelming majority in a vote of 287 to 55 with four abstentions.
The vote follows the parliament’s foreign affairs committee’s green light, paving the way for adoption after a twenty-month delay and pressure from NATO officials and members.
Stockholm applied to join the military alliance shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022 in a joint bid with its neighbour Helsinki, both abandoning traditional non-military alignment.
The membership application was awaiting approval by national parliaments, one major mandatory step required in the procedure.
Ankara first delayed the vote, asking Sweden to test up its anti-terrorism legislation and take action – including extradition – against supporters of Kurdish militants and members of the network Ankara holds responsible for a 2016 coup attempt, which it sees as a terrorist organisation.
It was not communicated how the breakthrough came, as until recently, Ankara was saying it would not accept Sweden as a member until the United States agreed to sell them F-16 fighter jets, which Congress has so far refused.
Results show that President Erdogan’s AK Party, far-right MHP and main opposition social democratic CHP voted in favour, while the Nationalist Iyi Party and the Islamist Felicity Party voted against it. The centre-right political party, the pro-Kurdish DEM party, either voted against it or did not stay for the vote.
When voting for Finland’s accession, the assembly was unanimously in favour.
Now the Parliament has ratified the accession protocol; it sent it to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s desk for signature.
It will then fly to the United States State Department – the depository of NATO according to the alliance’s founding treaty.
Only then can invitees formally become NATO members, the announcement of which is made by the secretary-general.
If all NATO members had green-lit the membership, this process could be over in a couple of days, as it is mainly a matter of dealing with red tape.
Unknown Hungarian timeline
Uncertainty, however, remains as to when Hungary will ratify the bid.
It is withholding Stockholm’s membership because it challenged the Hungarian government over the rule of law violations and and took their NATO accession as granted.
NATO members have not taken any steps to mediate the issue and have repeatedly dismissed it, while negotiations between Finland, Sweden, and Turkey were put in place in the summer of 2022.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban wrote in an X post that he invited his Swedish counterpart “to negotiate”.
?”I see no reason to negotiate in this situation”, Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billstrom replied, Swedish media Expressen reported, dismissing the Hungarian move to leverage its veto power.
He added that the word did not appear in the official invitation letter and he did not confirm Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s attendance.
The minister also said that the ratification issue was raised again on Monday (22 January) with his counterpart Peter Szijjarto in Brussels at Sweden’s initiative, where he “ was again assured that they intend to continue with this and that the government is fully in favour of Sweden becoming a member of NATO”.
Stoltenberg said in a statement he welcomed the vote and he “also count[s] on Hungary to complete its national ratification as soon as possible”.
“All NATO Allies agreed in Vilnius to invite Sweden to join our Alliance, and Sweden has fulfilled its commitments”, he continued. “Sweden’s membership makes NATO stronger and all of us safer.”
Last spring, Stoltenberg said that Finland and Sweden’s memberships would “erase grey areas, strengthen the political community, and NATO’s ability to ensure security in the Nordic region, the Baltic region and Europe.”
Swedish politicians remain unconvinced of Viktor Orban’s invitation to Sweden’s prime minister.
“Sweden has done its part in the agreement we signed with Turkey and Finland. There is nothing new to negotiate,” said the far-right Sweden Democrats’ Aron Emilsson, chairman of the Swedish parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
On the other hand, news of Turkey’s long-awaited vote was well received across the Swedish political spectrum, with Kristersson pleased on X that Sweden is “one step closer to full membership of NATO”.
Opposition and Social Democratic leader Magdalena Andersson deemed the Turkish decision “gratifying” on social media, adding that she looks forward to Turkey and Hungary “taking the final steps required” for full membership.
“Now we hope that the Hungarian parliament will also act quickly. Everyone benefits from this. We are building safety, security and stability together”, Center party leader Muharrem Demirok wrote on X.
However, Billstrom emphasised that even though it is “obviously good news”, Erdogan must sign the decision before Turkey formally ratifies the application.
“We are, of course, not finished with the process,” he told the reporters on Tuesday night.
*first published in: Euractiv.com