ANKARA: Turkey’s parliament officially approved Sweden’s NATO membership bid, marking the resolution of the primary obstacle to the expansion of the Western military alliance.
The Turkish general assembly, where President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling alliance commands a majority, voted 287-55 in favor of the application made by Sweden in 2022, a move aimed at enhancing its security in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The approval process required all NATO members to consent to applications from countries seeking to join the alliance. Initially, when Sweden and Finland expressed their desire to join in 2022, Turkey raised objections related to what it perceived as the two countries’ support for groups deemed as terrorists. While Finland’s membership gained endorsement in April of the previous year, Sweden had been kept waiting by Turkey and Hungary.
During the parliamentary debate, Fuat Oktay, head of the foreign affairs commission and a member of the ruling AK Party, expressed support for NATO enlargement to strengthen deterrence efforts. He also highlighted the hope that Finland and Sweden’s commitment to combating terrorism would set an example for other allies.
US Ambassador Jeff Flake commended the Turkish Parliament’s decision and emphasized that Turkey’s commitment to the NATO Alliance demonstrated a lasting partnership.
The approval was also welcomed by Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom, who expressed anticipation for President Erdogan’s signing of the ratification document.
It is expected that Erdogan will sign the legislation in the coming days, leaving Hungary as the sole member state yet to approve Sweden’s accession. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, known for his friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, invited his Swedish counterpart for negotiations on joining the bloc earlier on Tuesday.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Turkey’s decision and urged Hungary to complete its national ratification promptly.
Turkey and Hungary, maintaining comparatively warmer relations with Russia within NATO, have previously criticized certain Western policies. While Turkey opposes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has criticized Western sanctions on Moscow. Russia, in turn, has warned of responses if NATO enhances military infrastructure in Sweden and Finland.
Sweden’s NATO membership bid, representing a departure from its non-aligned security policy, is seen as crucial for reinforcing NATO defenses in the Baltic Sea region facing Russia.
Turkey’s delays in approving Sweden’s bid had led to frustration among some Western allies, but the process also allowed Turkey to secure concessions. Ankara had pushed for a tougher stance from Stockholm against local members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), recognized as a terrorist group by the EU and the US. In response, Sweden introduced an anti-terrorism bill criminalizing membership in such organizations.
Additionally, Sweden, Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands took steps to ease restrictions on arms exports to Turkey. Oktay noted in parliament that the AK Party endorsed Sweden’s NATO bid following positive steps taken by Sweden in the fight against terrorism.
Erdogan had linked the ratification to US approval of F-16 fighter jet sales to Turkey, a connection established when he sent Sweden’s bid to parliament in October.