After Ratifying Sweden’s NATO Accession, Will Turkiye Get What It Wants from the West?

Murad Jandali | 9 months ago




Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s agreement to refer Sweden’s request to join NATO to parliament constituted a turning point in Ankara’s hardline stance for more than a year in rejecting the matter, which coincided with a similar decision by Hungary, which was following the example of Ankara in its conditional position on Sweden’s membership in NATO.

Erdogan surprised everyone before the NATO summit in Lithuania by linking his country’s approval of Sweden’s accession to NATO to opening the way for Ankara to enter the European Union, which received mixed reactions from Europe and the United States.

For at least 30 years, Turkiye has been trying to join the EU, but the efforts of successive Ankara governments have not succeeded in gaining Europe’s confidence to join its union in light of the presence of strict obstacles and conditions that impede this membership.

Relations between Ankara and Brussels were tense several years ago, but they began to improve considerably later, as the EU relies on the assistance of Turkiye, a member of NATO, especially with regard to the immigration file.


Conditional Approval

Turkish President Erdogan opened a new line of negotiations with his Western allies on July 10; for the first time, he explicitly linked Sweden’s file in NATO with Turkiye’s old file to join the EU.

Erdogan spoke before leaving to participate in the NATO summit in Lithuania, saying: “First, open the way to Turkiye’s membership of the EU, and then we will open NATO membership for Sweden, just as we had opened it for Finland.”

Erdogan also raised the issue of EU membership during a phone call he had with U.S. President Joe Biden on July 9.

On its part, the White House announced that the United States was and still supports Turkiye’s endeavors and aspirations to join the EU.

After talks at the Vilnius Summit between the Turkish President and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “I am pleased to announce that President Erdoğan has agreed to present Sweden’s accession protocol to Parliament as soon as possible, and to work with the Council to ensure its ratification.”

The statement issued after the tripartite talks indicated that Turkiye and Sweden will work closely to coordinate the fight against terrorism and promote bilateral trade ties.

“Sweden will support efforts to revitalize Turkiye’s accession process to the EU, including the modernization of the EU–Turkey customs union and visa liberalization,” the statement said.

Visa liberalization has become a constant topic of discussion on Turkish social media as a result of cases of European countries refusing to grant visas to Turks in an apparently arbitrary manner.

The agreement was reached after Erdogan suspended talks with Stoltenberg and Kristersson to hold a side meeting with European Council President Charles Michel.

In a tweet, Michel praised the good meeting, adding that they discussed future opportunities to bring cooperation between the EU and Turkiye back to the fore and revitalize the relations.

The Turkish parliament still has to ratify Sweden’s accession protocol, but Erdogan has vowed to push for its ratification, especially since his ruling party has the parliamentary majority.

The Hungarian Parliament must also ratify the request, noting that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban pledged that his country would not be the last to ratify the protocol, indicating that the step would take place soon.


EU Membership

It is noteworthy that Turkiye’s accession process to the EU is actually frozen due to several obstacles on the way, including the controversy over Cyprus, for example, as reported by Middle East Eye on July 10.

The British website also explained that President Erdogan is known for making strategic changes to his foreign policy after every election.

Erdogan has maintained friendly relations with Ukraine and Russia since last year, as Turkiye played a mediating role in the grain deal between the two warring parties, in conjunction with maintaining the sales of drones and weapons to Kyiv and receiving Russian investors and tourists at the same time.

The website says that Turkiye is currently suffering from an economic crisis, a rise in the rate of inflation, and the depletion of all its foreign exchange reserves, as well as there is a conviction in Ankara that Russian and Gulf investments will not be sufficient to save the economy.

It is noteworthy that Erdogan formulated a Turkish foreign policy and democratic credentials in line with the EU between 2002 and 2013 and implemented reforms that granted more rights and freedoms to the Turkish people.

Institutional reforms at that time increased investor confidence in Turkiye, resulting in billions of dollars flowing into the country.

Turkiye has had the status of an official candidate to join the EU since 2005, and it aspired to membership for a long time before that, but the talks have stalled for years.

Ankara submitted its candidacy file to the European Economic Community, the predecessor of the EU, in 1987.

It obtained the status of a candidate country to join the union in 1999 and formally launched membership negotiations with the bloc in 2005.

In another report on July 11, Middle East Eye revealed two reasons that prompted Turkish President Erdogan to change his position on Sweden’s accession to NATO.

The website added that after a number of phone calls and meetings between senior Turkish officials and their American counterparts, including the foreign ministers, two advisers, and intelligence chiefs, an agreement was reached on Turkiye’s request to provide it with F-16 fighter jets.

In a related context, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said, on July 10, that he is in talks with the Biden administration regarding the suspension he imposed on future U.S. sales of F-16 fighter jets to Ankara.

Menendez, a Democrat, added that he could make a decision within the next week on the suspension.

Subsequently, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan stated that the United States would move forward with the transfer of F-16s to Turkiye in consultation with the U.S. Congress.

Another source told MEE that the deal included 40 new aircraft and maintenance equipment for the 79 F-16s in Turkiye’s existing fleet, more than 900 air-to-air missiles, and 800 bombs.

The second reason that convinced Erdogan to accept Sweden’s NATO membership was Canada agreeing to drop its arms embargo against Turkiye, officials told MEE.

Canada initially imposed this ban after the military campaign launched by Turkiye in northern Syria in 2019. It partially retracted this decision in June 2020 and agreed to sell reconnaissance devices used in drones to Turkiye after high-level talks with it.

However, Canada suspended military exports after a video clip emerged indicating that Canadian-made Wescam devices were used in rallies in Karabakh in October 2020, when Turkiye was supporting Azerbaijani forces against Armenian forces.

“Turkiye’s export controls remain in place. But Canada and Turkiye continue to engage in frank exchanges on our bilateral, economic, and commercial relations,” a spokesperson for International Affairs Canada told MEE.


Western Tilt

Regarding the Turkish–Western deal and its implications, Mahmoud Alloush, a researcher in Turkish foreign affairs, explained in a statement to Al-Estiklal that the deal between Turkiye and Sweden constitutes a roadblock to reshaping Turkish–Western relations.

However, he added that the deal, despite its importance, seems closer to a declaration of intent, noting that it included mutual undertakings from both sides without a clear timetable for completing the membership file, and its success depends on the implementation of new Western promises to Turkiye.

“There are two clear conclusions that can be drawn from the deal Erdogan reached with Sweden: The first is that a reform of Turkish–Western relations is possible when the West realizes the need for a shift in policies toward Ankara. The second is that Erdogan has once again shown his diplomatic prowess in imposing his country’s interests on the West,” he added.

In another context, Mr. Alloush considered that some assessments of Turkiye’s recent moves regarding its relation with Russia and the West are exaggerated, pointing out that accepting Sweden’s membership—if it takes place—will strengthen Ankara’s position in the relationship with the West while not abandoning Erdogan’s strategic independence in his country’s foreign policy.

The researcher also pointed out that the economic file is one of the motives for the Turkish move to de-escalate relations with the West and not to incline toward it from a geopolitical perspective, noting that Turkiye currently manages its foreign policy from the perspective of its national interests first and from the perspective of its geopolitical identity as part of NATO second.

Mr. Alloush concluded by saying, “Turkiye needs balance, and this balance cannot be achieved by deepening partnership with Russia and maintaining tensions with the West.”

The foreign policy rethink is part of a broader recalibration Erdogan is undertaking six weeks after his re-election.

Erdogan’s relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin have affected Turkey’s relations with its Western allies for years.

Analysts believe that Erdogan’s moves—including his declaration of support for Ukraine’s accession to NATO—were not accidental.

“There was a perception in recent years that the Turkish–Russian relationship had gone too far. This indicates a clear rebalancing,” said Galip Dalay at the Chatham House think-tank.