Sweden cleared the biggest hurdle to its NATO membership on Monday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan removed his veto following a trilateral meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Stoltenberg announced after the meeting that Erdogan has agreed to forward Sweden’s accession protocols to the Grand National Assembly — the Turkish parliament — as soon as possible and ensure ratification.
“We took a very big step toward the formal ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership,” Kristersson said.
The progress on Sweden’s membership came on the eve of the two-day NATO meeting in Vilnius, which runs through Wednesday, when the Russia-Ukraine conflict is expected to dominate the agenda.
In May last year, Sweden and Finland ditched their long-standing policy of military nonalignment and applied for NATO membership. A unanimous agreement is required from all NATO members for new entries. While Finland became a member in April, Sweden’s bid was blocked by Turkiye and Hungary.
Ankara said it could not welcome the Nordic nation as a NATO ally unless the latter cracked down on groups that Turkiye views as national security threats, including the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.
The burning of copies of the Quran by protesters in Stockholm further escalated tensions in past months.
However, a joint statement after Monday’s meeting said that Sweden had amended its Constitution, changed laws, expanded counterterrorism cooperation against the PKK and resumed arms exports to Turkiye.
Turkiye and Sweden also agreed to create a “new bilateral security compact” and that Stockholm will present a “road map as the basis of its continued fight against terrorism in all its forms”.
Unlike Turkiye, Hungary never publicly gave a reason for why it hadn’t yet ratified Sweden’s NATO membership. On July 4, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that Hungary would not delay Sweden’s membership once there was progress on the Turkish side.
Early on Monday, Erdogan created a stir before departing for Vilnius when he said his country would support Sweden’s NATO entry if the European Union opened membership talks for Turkiye.
The possibility was quickly dismissed by Brussels, which said that joining NATO and the EU were two very different procedures. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in Berlin that “it should not been seen as a connected issue”.
European Council President Charles Michel, who met with Erdogan on Monday, tweeted that he and Erdogan had “explored opportunities ahead to bring cooperation back to the forefront and reenergize our relations”.
The Turkiye-Sweden joint statement also said that Sweden will actively support efforts to reinvigorate Turkiye’s EU accession process.