Hungary is the only NATO ally not to have ratified Sweden’s membership.
Turkish lawmakers on Tuesday approved Sweden’s membership in NATO, removing a major obstacle to the previously non-aligned country’s entry into the military alliance.
Legislators ratified Sweden’s accession protocol with 287 votes in favour, 55 against and 4 abstentions. It will come into force after its publication in the Official Journal, which is expected quickly.
NATO member Turkey had been delaying Sweden’s membership for more than a year, accusing the country of being too lenient towards groups Ankara considers security threats. He has sought concessions from Stockholm, including a tougher stance on Kurdish militants and members of a network that Ankara blames for a failed coup in 2016.
Turkey has also been angered by a series of demonstrations by supporters of Sweden’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, as well as protests against the burning of the Koran that have roiled Muslim countries.
Last month, the parliamentary foreign affairs committee agreed to Sweden’s candidacy in the first stage of the legislative process, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent his accession protocol to lawmakers for approval.
Erdogan’s ruling party and its nationalist allies hold a majority in parliament and the protocol is expected to be approved in Tuesday’s vote.
Last month, speaking in favor of Swedish membership, Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akcapar cited measures taken by Sweden to meet Turkish demands, including lifting restrictions on defense industry sales and changing of anti-terrorism laws.
Sweden has pledged to strengthen cooperation with Turkey on counter-terrorism and to support Turkey’s ambition to revive its bid for EU membership.
Turkey’s main opposition party also supports Sweden joining the alliance, but a centre-right party and the country’s pro-Kurdish party have said they will oppose it.
“Sweden’s steps regarding the extradition of wanted criminals or the fight against terrorism remained limited and insufficient,” Musavat Dervisoglu, a lawmaker from the Good Party, told Parliament.
Erdogan linked the ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership to the US Congress’ approval of a Turkish request to purchase 40 new F-16 fighter jets and kits to modernize Turkey’s existing fleet. He also urged Canada and other NATO allies to lift the arms embargo on Turkey.
Koray Aydin, another Good Party lawmaker, urged parliament to hold off ratifying Sweden’s membership until F-16 sales and modernization kits are approved in Washington, saying Turkey would lose an important commodity of exchange.
The administration of American President Joe Biden has never formally linked the sale of the F-16s to Turkey’s ratification of Sweden’s membership in NATO. However, several influential members of Congress have said they will not support the sale unless and until Turkey signs off on Sweden’s membership in the alliance. Such lawmakers have the power to block, or at least delay, the sale.
Administration officials now expect the sale of the F-16 to be relatively quick.
In Washington, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the White House was closely following the Turkish parliament’s action.
“As the president said, Sweden is more than ready to become a NATO ally,” Kirby said. “And we certainly look forward to their joining the alliance.”
He added that Sweden has: “A modern, advanced military, which we feel very comfortable with. And they will add really significant military capabilities to the alliance.”
Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military non-alignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Finland joined the alliance in April, becoming the 31st member of NATO after the Turkish parliament ratified the Nordic country’s candidacy.
Hungary had also blocked Sweden’s candidacy, claiming that Swedish politicians had told “blatant lies” about the conditions of Hungarian democracy. Hungary has said it will not be the last to approve membership, although it is unclear when the Hungarian parliament plans to vote.
Turkey’s decision was welcomed by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. He also asked Hungary to: “Complete national ratification as soon as possible. All NATO allies agreed in Vilnius to invite Sweden to join our Alliance, and Sweden has fulfilled its commitments. Sweden’s membership It makes NATO stronger and all of us safer.” He said.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced on Tuesday that he had sent a letter to his Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson, inviting him to Budapest to discuss Sweden’s entry into NATO.
NATO requires unanimous approval from all existing members to expand, and Turkey and Hungary were the only countries that resisted, frustrating other NATO allies who had pressed for the quick membership of Sweden and Finland.