Turkey continues to hold up Finland and Sweden joining NATO

4 November 2022

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, speaking alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Istanbul on 3 November, said that Sweden and Finland have not yet fulfilled all obligations under an earlier Trilateral Memorandum clearing their bids to join NATO, and they must still take concrete steps. In addition to Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to NATO, the NATO Secretary General and the Turkish Foreign Minister addressed a range of issues, including Turkey’s contributions to NATO security, the situation in the Aegean, the common fight against terrorism and alliance support for Ukraine.

During their joint press conference, the NATO Secretary General, who also met with leaders from Sweden and Finland in recent days, welcomed the major, concrete steps taken by both countries to put the Trilateral Memorandum into practice. He said, “Finland and Sweden have delivered on their agreement with Turkey. They have become strong partners in our joint fight against terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations. And they are clearly committed to a long-term engagement with Turkey to address your security concerns”. He added that “it is time to welcome Finland and Sweden as full members of NATO”, stressing that finalising their accession process is even more important in these dangerous times, “to prevent any misunderstanding or miscalculation in Moscow” and to send a clear sign that NATO’s door remains open.

However, it was reported that the Turkish Foreign Minister continued to pour cold water over Sweden and Finland’s aspirations to rapidly join NATO, saying during the press conference (according to a translation by Turkish broadcaster TRT) that "both countries are expressing that they are committed to the memorandum, but what matters is the execution”.

Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO in May, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but have faced opposition from Turkish Government, which accused the countries of supporting "terrorism" by harbouring Kurdish militants. The three countries agreed the Trilateral Memorandum in June in which the Nordic states pledged to "address Turkey's pending deportation or extradition requests of terror suspects expeditiously" and lift an alleged arms embargo on Ankara. The agreement cleared the only major obstacle for the countries to join the military alliance. Unanimous consent from the 30 NATO member states is necessary, and only Turkey and Hungary have still to do so – although Budapest is expected to ratify their accession soon.

Hungary’s government supports their NATO membership and has submitted the ratification documents to the National Assembly, Minister Gergely Gulyás told reporters at a briefing on 22 October. Gulyás, chief of staff to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, said the expansion of NATO to include the two Nordic countries would be ratified by mid-December at the latest, according to media reports. The assumption is that Turkey is likely to wait until after a general election in June 2023, but ratification by Turkey is still by no means certain.

Turkey’s complaints mainly relate to Sweden, which has a large Kurdish diaspora population. Of particular interest to Ankara are Turkish residents with alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in the 1980s and demands equal rights for the minority group. The conflict has claimed some 40,000 lives. Turkey, the United States and the EU designate the PKK a terrorist organisation.