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‘Bargaining’ or ‘Blackmailing’: Turkey’s Erdogan demands EU membership in exchange for Sweden’s NATO bid support

Ankara, Turkey, July 11:  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stirred controversy by stating that the European Union (EU) must pave the way for Turkey’s accession to the EU before his country approves NATO membership for Sweden.

The remarks, made as NATO members gather in Lithuania to discuss Sweden’s membership, have left European diplomats facing a significant dilemma.

Analysts arguing that, Erdogan’s proposition could be viewed by some EU members as a form of “blackmail,” leveraging Sweden’s NATO aspirations against Turkey’s long-awaited EU membership.

Turkey’s EU application, initiated during Erdogan’s first term as prime minister in 2005, had been put on hold for several years due to concerns surrounding his far-right dictatorial policies, which have remained contentious points between the EU and Turkey.

Another major criticisms have been raised against Turkey for its alleged policy of permitting the entry of illegal refugees from West Asia and Pakistan into Europe via Greece, further straining relations.

Although relations between Ankara and EU members worsened following a failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016, there have been gradual efforts to improve ties since then.

During a press conference before his departure for the NATO summit in Vilnius, Erdogan unexpectedly tied Turkey’s support for Sweden’s NATO application to its eventual EU membership.

He called upon the EU countries to “open the way for Turkey at the European Union,” emphasizing that only then would Turkey reciprocate by supporting Sweden’s NATO bid, as it did for Finland.

Sweden and Finland submitted their NATO membership applications last year, breaking their long-standing policy of military non-alignment in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, NATO’s policy mandates that any new member must be included through consensus, requiring support from each member country in the alliance.

While Turkey and Hungary approved Finland’s application to join NATO in April, Sweden’s application is still awaiting their endorsement.

At the ongoing conference in Vilnius, Stockholm is actively seeking to join the alliance.

Erdogan insisted that the agreement reached at NATO’s summit in Madrid last summer is a precondition for Sweden’s membership, cautioning against any expectations of concessions from Ankara.

Ankara contends that Sweden has not done enough to combat what it perceives as terrorist elements, particularly members of the outlawed PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which Turkey, the EU, and the US designate as a terrorist organization.

Furthermore, Erdogan suggested that resolving the conflict between Ukraine and Russia would facilitate Kyiv’s application for NATO membership, implying that progress in that regard could impact the approval process for Sweden.

The international community now awaits whether Erdogan will successfully negotiate maximum concessions from European partners in exchange for accepting Sweden’s NATO bid, further entangling the intricate web of EU-Turkey relations.

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