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Erdogan: Let Turkey in EU if you want Sweden in NATO

July 10, 2023

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he would be willing to back Sweden's NATO bid after a year of stalling, but now he wants EU membership, too.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stands before a NATO banner
Erdogan is again leveraging the West's needs, publicly weighing NATO and EU membership Image: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday added to the list of demands he wants fulfilled in exchange for finally backing Stockholm's accession to NATO. 

Speaking just hours before meeting Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to discuss Sweden's bid to join the military alliance, Erdogan suggested if the EU wanted Sweden in NATO it should let Turkey into the EU

Membership talks between the bloc and Ankara began in 2005, but were put on hold indefinitely in 2016, after years of democratic backsliding, human rights abuses and provocations under Erdogan.

Erdogan sets conditions for Sweden's NATO bid: DW reports

How Germany reacted to Erdogan's EU-NATO exchange offer

"Almost all the NATO members are EU members," he said, "I now am addressing these countries, which are making Turkey wait for more than 50 years, and I will address them again [at the NATO summit] in Vilnius. First, open the way to Turkey's membership of the European Union, and then we will open it for Sweden, just as we had opened it for Finland."

Erdogan claimed he had "told the same thing" to US President Joe Biden when they spoke by phone Sunday, though a White House readout of the call shows no mention of EU membership for Turkey.

Reacting to news of Ankara's new demands, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaking in Berlin on Monday, said Sweden's NATO membership should not be tied to Turkey's stalled EU membership bid: "Sweden meets all the requirements for NATO membership. The other question is one that is not connected with it. And that is why I do not think it should be seen as a connected issue."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was also of the opinion that the two have nothing to do with one another. He noted that while he supports Ankara's desire to join the EU, that was not among the conditions of the agreement signed by Turkey, Sweden and Finland last year at the NATO summit in Madrid. 

Stoltenberg said he thought it "still possible to have a positive decision [on membership]" and that Sweden had met the agreement's conditions.

"You cannot link the two processes in regards to Turkey," said EU Commission spokesperson Dana Spinant

Sweden, NATO and Erdogan's list of demands

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson plans to meet with Erdogan on Monday in a last-ditch effort to bridge gaps over Stockholm's desire to join NATO.

Last month, Erdogan repeated frustrations with what he says is Sweden's failure to keep its promise to deal with suspected Kurdish militants allegedly "roaming the streets" of Stockholm. Erdogan says this is hindering Swedish hopes of joining NATO.

"Sweden has taken some steps in the right direction," Erdogan's office quoted the Turkish leader as telling Biden on Sunday.

But Sweden's decision to allow pro-Kurdish groups to, "hold demonstrations freely praising terrorism nullify those steps," Erdogan said.

DW talks to defence analyst Tomas Jermalavicius about the upcoming NATO summit

Hungary also lukewarm to Sweden membership

Erdogan's stance is being supported by Kremlin-friendly Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The two countries remain the only NATO members still standing in the way of the unanimous ratification needed for Sweden to become the 32nd member of the US-led bloc.

Hungary has strongly signaled it will follow Erdogan's lead and approve Sweden's membership should Turkey give its green light.

The talks between the leaders of Sweden and Turkey will occur on the eve of NATO's fourth summit to be held since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, comes as NATO tries to fend off any possible divisions, with analysts suggesting the Kremlin is using its ties with Turkey to create a rift among Western allies.

The NATO summit looks set to be dominated by how the alliance will see its future relationship with Ukraine, amid repeated calls by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for Kyiv to become a member.

Zelenskyy visits Istanbul, Erdogan backs Ukraine's NATO bid

jsi,js/jcg (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)