Will Everything Now Happen Quickly?
For over a year, Turkish President Erdogan has resisted Sweden's accession to NATO - on the eve of the summit in Vilnius, he surprisingly conceded. But how solid is the commitment, and how quickly can it now proceed?
The Importance of Half a Day
What a difference half a day can make: When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made his way to the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Monday, he dealt another major blow to hopes of Sweden's imminent NATO accession.
Unexpectedly, Erdogan drew a connection between NATO membership and Turkey's accession talks with the EU. He stated that if Turkey's path to the European Union is paved, Turkey would also pave the way for Sweden's NATO entry.
On Monday evening, after hours of talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, much sounded different: Erdogan expressed readiness to soon present the accession protocol to the Turkish parliament, while Sweden promised to actively promote the resumption of talks between the EU and Ankara regarding accession.
Sweden also pledged to support the expansion of the customs union and the introduction of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens - both areas where discussions have also been at a standstill. Moreover, Kristersson made commitments regarding counterterrorism efforts, targeting the banned Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) and its alleged members' activities in Sweden.
Parliament Must Now Be Involved
Erdogan's turnaround was a huge relief for NATO and Sweden. But whether Sweden's accession to NATO can now be swiftly completed, possibly by autumn, is not assured. It depends, first and foremost, on when Erdogan initiates the parliamentary process - parliamentary approval of the accession protocol is essential. However, the protocol must first pass through a parliamentary committee, so it is unclear whether the MPs will vote on it before the summer recess.
And Turkey is not the only country where the parliamentary green light is still pending - Hungary has also not ratified the protocol. The Hungarian government had previously supported Turkey's blockade. However, they have now indicated their intention to follow suit. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto wrote on Facebook that the completion of the ratification process is a "purely technical question."
The Role of the EU Accession Process
There are still uncertainties, though. It can be assumed that Sweden will fulfill its promise to advocate for a resumption of EU accession talks. However, for that to happen, the European Council, i.e., the heads of state and government of the EU, would have to grant the Commission the mandate to resume negotiations on various specific issues and start new ones that were not addressed in the previous accession talks. Overall, there are 33 chapters to consider, of which only one has been concluded.
The EU's reaction to Turkey's linkage of NATO and EU accession, however, was rather reserved. EU Council President Charles Michel announced on Twitter on Monday that possibilities for closer cooperation and revitalizing relations should be explored. What this specifically means remains unclear for now. In contrast, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated that both issues are not related, therefore "one should not understand them as connected issues."
This does not sound like rapid progress. On the other hand, it is uncertain how quickly and solidly Erdogan actually expects results from the EU. Former German Ambassador to Turkey, Martin Erdmann, expressed the assumption to tagesschau.de that Erdogan likely realized he had made a significant demand regarding EU accession and had "climbed onto a limb" from which he "had to descend." Therefore, it is quite possible that this demand will no longer play a major role in the coming months.
It will be easier for the Swedish government to present a counterterrorism plan to parliament with its majority. Whether this plan will be sufficient for Turkey remains to be seen.
Erdogan's Long Resistance to Sweden's NATO Accession
Erdogan's prolonged refusal to approve Sweden's NATO accession has been perceived by some NATO partners as a bargaining chip to pressure the US into selling F-16 fighter jets. This primarily targeted the US Congress as President Joe Biden has long advocated for such a deal. Shortly before the NATO summit, he reiterated his support, but there has been resistance to such a agreement from both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.
Criticism of Turkey is significant within both parties. Senators accuse Turkey of human rights violations and aggression against neighboring countries, specifically referring to Syria and NATO ally Greece. Senator Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced that he would discuss the F-16 issue with Biden. However, he also made demands that are unlikely to be quickly fulfilled - the current "lull" in Turkish aggression against its neighboring states must become a "permanent reality."
Turkey's approval of Sweden's NATO accession, therefore, depends on numerous expectations and conditions. Whether they will all be fulfilled and how Turkey will handle any potential disappointments are just some of the many questions arising from Erdogan's surprising shift.
According to former diplomat Erdmann in an interview with tagesschau.de, the Turkish president pursues an erratic foreign policy, making it difficult even for longtime observers to make sense of it. A clear strategy is not discernible. For Sweden and the alliance, this could mean that further surprises are not excluded.