Sweden inches closer to NATO after Turkish parliamentary commission vote

The Turkish Parliament Foreign Affairs Commission approved Sweden's NATO membership bid, marking a crucial step toward expanding the Western bloc after a 19-month delay, during which Ankara sought security-related concessions from Stockholm.


The Turkish Parliament Foreign Affairs Commission approved Sweden's NATO membership bid on Dec. 26 in a key step towards enlarging the Western bloc after 19 months of delays in which Ankara demanded security-related concessions from Stockholm.

The commission, controlled by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), voted to back the bid - which Sweden made last year in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine - after some four hours of debate, including talks on other matters. It had postponed a vote on the bid after an earlier debate on Nov. 16.

The next step is a vote in the parliament general assembly, where Erdoğan's party also holds a majority. It is also expected to pass there in a vote that could be held within weeks. Erdoğan would then sign it into law, concluding a process that has frustrated some of Ankara's allies and tested its Western ties.

Commission head Fuat Oktay played down expectations for a speedy vote in the general assembly, telling reporters in parliament that the parliament speaker would decide on timing.

"The decision to submit it to the general assembly has been made now, but this should not be interpreted as (a sign) that it will pass the general assembly with the same speed. There is no such thing," Oktay said. Parliament is set for a two-week recess in early January.

Erdoğan's AKP, its far-right ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) voted in favor of ratification, while the Islamist opposition Felicity Party (SP) and nationalist opposition Good (İYİ) Party voted against it.

In a statement following the commission's approval, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said Sweden welcomed the move and looked forward to joining NATO.

Boris Ruge, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy, said on social messaging platform X that the commission's approval was "excellent news."

Oğuz Kaan Salıcı, a lawmaker from the CHP and member of the commission, told Reuters that his party had asked for an explanation on what had changed since the Nov. 16 commission meeting, adding he expected all parties to take a similar stance in the general assembly.

"We questioned what changed from the last meeting to this meeting. As the main opposition party, we asked for this to be explained to us. They briefed us on the steps Sweden has taken, Turkey's foreign policy priorities, and openly referred to the talks between President Erdoğan and (U.S. President Joe) Biden," Salıcı said.

President Erdoğan challenges Swedish bid with security concessions

Erdoğan raised objections in May 2022 to both Swedish and Finnish requests to join the alliance over what he said was their protection of those Turkey deems terrorists and over their defense trade embargoes.

Turkey ratified Finland's bid in April, but kept Sweden waiting until it took more steps to crack down on local members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the European Union and United States also list as a terrorist group.

In response, Stockholm introduced a new anti-terrorism bill that makes being a member of a terrorist organization illegal, saying that it had upheld its part of a deal signed last year.

Sweden and NATO members Finland, Canada and the Netherlands also took steps to relax Turkey arms-export policies.

While NATO member Hungary has also not ratified Sweden's membership, Turkey is seen as the main roadblock to adding the Scandinavian nation to the military alliance and bolstering its defenses in the Baltic Sea region.

Erdoğan sent Sweden's bid to parliament in October, but has also linked its ultimate ratification with U.S. approval of sales of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. After a call with Biden this month, he said Washington was eyeing the ratification to move on the request.

The White House backs the sale, though there is no clear time frame for the U.S. Congress to approve it and Turkey faces some congressional opposition over delaying NATO enlargement and over its human rights record.

Turkey's tough diplomacy over the last 18 months irked some alliance members amid the war in Ukraine. Unlike its allies, Ankara maintains good relations with Moscow as well as Kyiv, opposing Russia's invasion but also the Western sanctions on Russia.