In an unexpected turn of events, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has called on the European Union (EU) to open the way for Turkey’s accession to the bloc before Turkey’s parliament approves Sweden’s bid to join the NATO military alliance.
This move comes after years of frozen EU membership talks and strained relations between Ankara and the EU. Erdogan’s proposal, made ahead of the NATO summit in Vilnius, seeks to link Sweden’s NATO bid with Turkey’s long-standing aspiration to join the EU.
While the European Commission and NATO officials have emphasized that the two processes are separate, Erdogan’s stance introduces a new dimension to the discussions surrounding Turkey’s EU membership and Sweden’s NATO accession.
Turkey’s Quest for EU Membership
Turkey’s desire to join the EU dates back to 1987 when it formally applied for membership. However, membership talks did not commence until 2005, during Erdogan’s first term as prime minister.
Since then, progress has been slow, and the process has remained stagnant for several years. Tensions escalated further after the failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016, which strained relations between Ankara and the EU.
Nevertheless, in recent times, there have been indications of a thaw in relations, particularly due to Turkey’s cooperation in managing migration flows and addressing common challenges.
President Erdogan’s unexpected proposal calls for the EU to initiate Turkey’s accession process without further delays.
He argues that the EU should not keep Turkey waiting at its doorstep for over 50 years. Erdogan believes that by opening the way for Turkey’s EU membership, Sweden’s NATO bid can be considered on a reciprocal basis.
He draws a parallel with Finland, emphasizing that Turkey played a crucial role in facilitating Finland’s EU membership.
Erdogan sees this as an opportunity to leverage Turkey’s position and ensure a fair and balanced approach to both Turkey’s EU membership and Sweden’s NATO accession.
Response from European Commission and NATO
The European Commission and NATO have made it clear that the two processes—EU enlargement and NATO membership—are distinct and should not be linked.
A spokesperson for the European Commission stated that each candidate country’s accession process is evaluated based on its own merits and compliance with the established criteria and obligations.
The EU’s approach to enlargement is characterized by a rigorous assessment of a candidate’s progress in fulfilling the necessary political, economic, and legal reforms.
While acknowledging his support for Turkey’s EU membership, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg affirmed that Sweden had already met the necessary conditions to join NATO.
Stoltenberg expressed optimism about a positive decision on Sweden’s NATO membership at the Vilnius summit.
Sweden’s NATO Bid and Turkey’s Concerns
Both Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership last year, deviating from their longstanding policy of military non-alignment in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While Finland’s NATO membership was approved in April, Sweden’s bid is pending clearance from Turkey and Hungary.
Erdogan argues that Sweden’s accession is contingent upon the implementation of a deal reached during NATO’s summit in Madrid last summer.
Turkey believes that Sweden has not done enough to combat what it perceives as terrorist organizations, particularly the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU, and the United States.
Turkey’s concerns revolve around the need for Sweden to take stronger action against PKK members and prevent any support or activities that threaten Turkey’s security.
Experts have expressed skepticism about Erdogan’s proposal positively impacting Turkey’s EU membership bid. While the move demonstrates Turkey’s continued aspiration for EU membership, it is unlikely to lead to significant progress without comprehensive reforms and addressing the concerns of EU member states.
Erdogan’s attempt to link Sweden’s NATO bid with Turkey’s EU accession may not strengthen Turkey’s position at the Vilnius summit.
Sinan Ulgen, a former diplomat and director of the Istanbul-based Centre for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, believes that Erdogan’s proposal is unlikely to facilitate any substantial developments in Turkey’s EU membership process.
Ulgen highlights that the EU’s enlargement process is based on strict evaluation criteria and progress made by each candidate country.
President Erdogan’s surprise proposal calling for simultaneous EU accession for Turkey and Sweden’s NATO membership has injected a new dynamic into the ongoing discussions.
However, the European Commission and NATO officials have made it clear that the two processes are separate and should be evaluated independently. Turkey’s long-standing aspiration for EU membership and Sweden’s bid to join NATO will continue to evolve, with each being assessed on their own merits.
As the Vilnius summit unfolds, it remains to be seen how these complex and interconnected issues will be addressed and whether they will impact the future trajectory of Turkey’s EU membership bid and Sweden’s NATO accession.
While Erdogan’s proposal raises important questions, it will require a comprehensive and diplomatic approach to navigate the intricacies of both processes.
Rashmi completed her Graduation in economics and international relations.
Along with this, she is also completing a diploma course in human psychology to understand the nature of society and to analysis the facts related to this more systematically.
Apart from her studies, she is a voracious reader and writer too.