Speaking to DW, Swedish Foreign Minister Thomas Billström expresses optimism that Turkey will lift objections to his country joining NATO
After the start of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine Sweden and Finland had moved heaven and earth to join NATO. Both countries have applied to join in 2022. But while Finland was accepted as the 31st member of the Atlantic Alliance last April, traditionally “neutral” Sweden is still waiting in the anteroom, as Turkey and Hungary still express reservations.
In recent days, however, Swedish Foreign Minister Thomas Billström seems more optimistic. Speaking to DW, on the sidelines of the last meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, he points out: “I had a bilateral meeting with the Turkish foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, who expressed the hope that the ratification (of the Swedish accession by Ankara) may be completed within the next few weeks. We will of course see if this actually happens. But it’s definitely a clear statement.”
But what about Hungary’s objections?Based on Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s latest public statements, the head of Swedish diplomacy believes that, if Turkey’s ratification is completed, Hungary will not stick to its own reservations.
“No new claims”
Initially, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had blocked the Scandinavian country’s accession to the Atlantic Alliance on the grounds that Sweden has not shown a decisive attitude towards “terrorist organizations”, in which Turkey includes the Kurdish PKK. In July, as Stockholm began to close in on Ankara, Erdogan told the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania that he would send the necessary documents for Sweden’s accession “as soon as possible” to the Turkish National Assembly.
According to information from the German News Agency (dpa), the file of the Swedish candidacy has indeed been forwarded to the Parliament, but it remains “under consideration” in some of the competent parliamentary committees. “Turkey is not making new claims against Sweden,” Thomas Billström clarifies, speaking to DW. In his assessment, “it is clear that Sweden has fulfilled its commitments”.
The head of Swedish diplomacy did not want to give any explanation for the delay on the Turkish side. “Simply, we are also waiting,” he says characteristically. However, he is convinced that Sweden can effectively support the work of the Atlantic Alliance. “We have well-trained and well-equipped armed forces, which is why we believe we can play an essential role in the security of NATO and the Alliance’s member states,” he points out.
NATO “pressure” on Ankara?
Responding to the question if he wants the other NATO member states to put more pressure on Ankara, Thomas Billstrom says: “I have the impression – and everyone, I think, shares it – that there has already been obvious pressure.” Just recently German Foreign Minister Analena Burbock recalled President Erdogan’s promises in the case of Sweden.
But the government of Finland, the newest member of the Alliance, did not fail to express its “disappointment”, pointing out the need for its neighboring country to join NATO “before Christmas”. Along the same lines, the Secretary General of the Atlantic Alliance Jens Stoltenberg warns: “Sweden has fulfilled its promises, now it is Turkey’s turn to complete the accession process.”
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