Explained: Why Turkey has not yet approved Sweden's bid of joining Nato

Despite Sweden implementing new anti-terror legislation in June, Turkey still claims Sweden has not taken sufficient "concrete steps"



BS Web Team New Delhi

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Turkey has been opposing Sweden's bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) due to grievances about how the latter nation has handled anti-Turkey protests and demonstrations. Sweden, which is geographically close to Russia, placed its bid with Nato following its invasion of Ukraine in 2022. However, with the recent protest outside a mosque in the Swedish capital, questions regarding Sweden bid come into question.

Here is everything you need to know about Sweden's bid and opposition from Turkey.


Both countries view NATO, with its collective defense clause, as the best means of ensuring their security. The majority of NATO members were swift to ratify Finland's application, recognising that Finland's 1,300-km (810-mile) border with Russia and Sweden's membership would strengthen the alliance in the Baltic region.

While Finland officially joined Nato in April 2023, in record time, Sweden is hoping to become a member at the Nato summit in Vilnius in July, according to Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstroem.

Turkey's objections to Sweden
Turkey had initially objected to both countries' membership as they reportedly harboured members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Gulen movement who were outlawed in Turkey.

The country eventually agreed to Finland's membership earlier this year as they had taken "concrete steps" to prevent "anti-Turkey terror" activities. However, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan maintains that Sweden has not taken its security concerns seriously.

Despite Sweden implementing new anti-terror legislation in June, Turkey has not changed its position. Hungary has followed Turkey's lead in delaying ratification.

Reasons for Turkey's objection
Sweden has criticised Turkey for human rights abuses and democratic standards. Turkey alleges that Sweden shelters members of groups it considers terrorist organisations, and it has demanded their extradition as a condition for ratifying Swedish membership. Swedish courts have blocked some deportations to Turkey. Turkish authorities have also expressed anger over demonstrations held in Sweden, including incidents where an effigy of President Erdogan was hung and flags supporting the PKK were displayed. Sweden's Foreign Minister has defended the right to protest but acknowledged the distinction between legality and appropriateness.

In the latest cases of protests, a Swedish man tore up and burned a copy of the Quran outside Stockholm's central mosque on Wednesday, June 28 ahead of the Eid-al-Adha festival.

This stirred anger and criticism from around the world. The deputy spokesperson of the US Department of State, Vedant Patel, told Reuters, "What might be legal is certainly not necessarily appropriate." However, Patel still urged Turkey and Hungary to ratify Sweden's application.

The Turkish foreign minister condemned the act, stating, "On the first day of the Eid-al-Adha, I curse the despicable act committed in Sweden against our Holy Book, the Holy Quran! It is unacceptable to allow these actions under the pretext of freedom of expression. To condone such atrocious acts is to be complicit."

Hungary's grievances
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has stated that while he personally favours both countries joining Nato, he alleged that both governments in Stockholm and Helsinki have spread lies about the country's state of democracy. He added that this had raised questions among Hungary's lawmakers.

A parliamentary delegation from Hungary declared its support towards Sweden's Nato membership bid after meeting the speaker of the Swedish parliament in March. However, the delegation added that the bilateral relations between Budapest and Stockholm needed to be improved.

Prospects for Turkey's agreement

Sweden's Foreign Minister has been engaging with Nato allies to ensure that Sweden's membership bid remains a priority.

Turkey and Sweden agreed to hold more talks for the latter's Nato in early June. Ankara maintained that Sweden needed to take concrete steps against anti-Turkey "terror" and against organisations that perpetuate this. Turkey would only agree to the country's membership if these conditions were met at the Vilius summit scheduled for July 11-12.

European leaders and the United States have also urged Turkey to proceed with the ratification.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson stated that he would not speculate on how the recent protest could affect Sweden's Nato application in a press conference following the demonstration.

First Published: Jun 29 2023 | 6:07 PM IST

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