Sweden and Finland coordinate strategy toward Turkey on Nato bid

Politics - November 8, 2022

The new prime minister of Sweden, Ulf Kristersson (EPP), made his first trip abroad to neighbouring Finland to work with the application process to join Nato with prime minister Sanna Marin (S&D).

The countries’ application for membership in NATO is a highly topical issue. After being outside any military alliance for hundreds of years the two countries regard the Russian invasion into Ukraine as a sign of a more aggressive security climate in Europe that require stronger military and national security cooperation with other Western contries.

The Sweden Democrats (ECR) form an important part of the new government’s parliamentary support. The party agrees with the centre-right government (EPP/Renew) to seek membership in NATO. The new government is thus stronger than the previous Social Democratic (S&D) government, whose support parties (GUE/NGL and G/EFA) are against NATO-membership for Sweden.

Together into NATO

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has opened up the possibility of approving Finland’s membership separately.

At a press conference on Friday, both Marin and Kristersson emphasized several times that they are in this process together.

– For us, it is very important that Finland and Sweden join NATO at the same time, said Marin and used the expression hand in hand.

According to her, this is important for security not only for each country but to the whole of Northern Europe.

Kristersson, in turn, spoke about Finland and Sweden being on a journey together.

– My view is that all countries that have ratified the applications see this in the same way.

When asked what the consequences could be if Finland and Sweden were to join at different times after all, the prime minister dismissed the question.

– I am not going to speculate about things that I am convinced will not occur, Kristersson said.

He also does not want to give any estimate as to when NATO membership can be a fact, other than that Sweden and Finland hope for ratification as quickly as possible.

Only two country left to ratify

Turkey has veto power in NATO over the acceptance of the two new application countries. All 30 member states have to ratify each new member. At the moment 28 NATO-members have done it since the application was submitted in May this year.

Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO countries that have not ratified the applications from Sweden and Finland.

For months, since Finland and Sweden applied to become members of NATO, Turkey has voiced concerns about the extradition of suspected Kurdish separatists, particularly regarding Sweden.

Gergely Gulyás, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s chief of staff, had said the country would ratify Finland’s and Sweden’s Nato membership by mid-December, reports US news site Politico.

Turkey is procrastinating

Turkey want Sweden and Finland to re-examine extradition requests that had already been rejected during the summer. Both countries apply rule of law laws and in this kind of decision the courts make rulings. The governments can’t intervene.

Specifically, Turkey wants the two countries to deport members or affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and members associated with the Gülen Movement.

Turkey’s main grievance has been with Sweden, rather than Finland, and that is the reason why Erdogan wants to separate the two countries’ applications.

The Swedish prime minister is expected to visit Ankara soon. Ulf Kristersson have spoked about the Turkish president and the government in Ankara in terms of “our Turkish friends”.

And the Swedish foreign minister Tobias Billström has assured that the Swedish government shares Turkey’s concern about the terrorist organization PKK: “There will be no nonsense from the Swedish government regarding the PKK”.

Both Finland and Sweden stopped selling weapons to Turkey 2019 after the Turkish military offensive against Kurdish targets in Syria. That embargo is now lifted, and the countries allows arms exports to Turkey again.

Internal Turkish issues

In Sweden, there is a widespread perception that President Erdogan uses the NATO applications for domestic political purposes. Turkey is heading for an uncertain election coming spring, and President Erdogan’s popularity ratings are at record lows. When he puts Sweden and Finland on the spot about terrorism, it probably gives him positive response in the opinion at home.

“Carrot and stick” method

It is also known that Turkey may use this delay in decision making in an attempt to get what the country wants of United States. Finnish security policy experts suggested that the US soon will have a decisive role in the process. Washington may play its hand in Ankara with what is characterised as a “carrot and stick” method.

Turkey has interests in the US in terms of arms purchases. Turkey would like to modernise its F-16 fighters and purchase new ones. This is clearly a ‘carrot’, and maybe a ‘stick’, goes the speculations.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the US intervene in the acceptance by Turkey of Sweden and Finland into NATO when Hungary has ratified the new members. Then only Turkey is in the way for a strategically important reinforcement of NATO along the northern flank of Europe.