Sweden’s NATO bid hit by repeated rows with Turkey

Sweden's bid for NATO membership is facing a dead end because Ankara's demands to Stockholm to hand over Kurdish activists and prevent rallies attacking Turkey's leadership have strained ties.

Sweden's NATO bid hit by repeated rows with Turkey
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson (L) hold a press conference following their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara on November 8, 2022. Photo: Adem ALTAN/AFP

The chances of this changing after Turkey’s parliamentary elections due in mid-May are uncertain, said Paul Levin, director of Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies. “We can now probably forget Turkish ratification before the elections, which seem to be scheduled for May 14,” Levin told AFP. “What happens after that depends in part on who wins.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s objections to Sweden’s NATO membership rest largely on Stockholm’s refusal to extradite Turkish nationals Ankara wants to prosecute for “terrorism”. And Erdogan is running for re-election.

In December, Sweden extradited a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to Turkey. He had been convicted in a Turkish court and denied asylum in Sweden.

Erdogan wants more action from Stockholm against the PKK, listed as a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies.

READ ALSO: Anti-Turkey demo in Sweden deepens tensions over NATO bid

“On one hand, there is a Turkish president who has jailed thousands over alleged insults and who wants to divert attention from a poor economy in the months before an election,” said Levin. “On the other hand, there are groups in Sweden who are against NATO membership and PKK supporters worried about the government’s pledges to go after” them, he said.

Levin said these PKK supporters had realised they could provoke Erdogan “by insulting him and thereby stall the accession process”.

Protests in Sweden

A protest by a far-right politician in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm on Saturday — authorised by the police — has further strained relations.

Rasmus Paludan is a Swedish-Danish activist who has already been convicted for racist abuse.

He provoked rioting in Sweden last year when he went on a tour of the country and publicly burned copies of the Koran.

On Saturday, he burned another copy of the Muslim holy book after a speech of almost an hour denouncing Islam.

Police based their decision to authorise the protest on the basis of Sweden’s liberal constitution, which protects the right to demonstrate.

Ankara summoned Sweden’s ambassador to register its outrage, then cancelled a visit of Swedish Defence Minister Pal Jonson that had been scheduled for next Friday in Ankara — a rare high-level meeting.

Earlier this month, Ankara called in Sweden’s ambassador after pro-Kurdish activists hung an effigy of Erdogan from its feet, explicitly comparing him to Benito Mussolini.

Italy’s Fascist dictator was left hanging upside down after his execution in the closing days of World War II.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson denounced it as an attempt to sabotage the country’s NATO membership bid — but that sparked a backlash from some inside Sweden defending the right to freedom of expression.

Islamist dictator’

Then last week, the leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Akesson, whose party props up the Swedish government, denounced Erdogan as an “Islamist dictator”.

He urged Kristersson not to appease Turkey “because it is ultimately an anti-democratic system and a dictator we are dealing with”, Akesson told Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.

Turkey is seeking the extradition of more Kurdish “terrorists” based in Sweden. Erdogan recently said there were as many as 130 there

Stockholm has made it clear that the courts have the final say, but that does not appear to have satisfied Ankara.

Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, who last spring was talking of a fast-track membership process of just a few weeks, told AFP in January he still thought it would happen in 2023, even if he could not guarantee it.

Both Turkey and Hungary were still to ratify the bid, he pointed out. Both countries have maintained links with Russia since its invasion of Ukraine, with Ankara in particular adopting the role of mediator between the two sides.

One spark of hope for Sweden is that Finland, which also launched its bid to join NATO following the Russian invasion, has made it clear that it does not want to enter the alliance without its “big brother”.

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Swedish PM’s top aide resigns over illegal eel fishing

One of Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson's top aides has resigned from his post after it emerged that he had been fined by police for illegally fishing for eels and had twice lied to the authorities about what happened.

Swedish PM's top aide resigns over illegal eel fishing

PM Nilsson lied twice to police about eel fishing equipment he was caught with, the second time after he was appointed as state secretary at the end of October. 

After the resignation, Kristersson said he was disappointed that Nilsson, who had previously been a columnist for the Dagens Industri newspaper, had had to step down. 

“I think of course that it is unfortunate that this situation has come about, but I understand his decision,” he said in a written comment to the TT newswire. “PM Nilsson has been a highly appreciated member of the team and is a highly competent person. We are going to miss him.” 

READ ALSO: Why a political aide’s eel denial is causing friction in Sweden

Nilsson announced his decision on Facebook, saying that he had already apologised and paid the fines. 

“I understand how improper it is to fish for eels without a permit and to not tell things as they were to the authorities, even if I have since then rung the police and admitted that I had caught 15 fish,” he wrote in the post. 

Nilsson was recently fined for poaching eel in 2021, and has admitted to having lied to police in a conversation just before Christmas when he claimed that the eel-fishing equipment he had been caught with was not his. He later regretted this decision and informed the police.  

In his Facebook post, Nilsson referred to media reports that police were now investigating him for a further crime of contravening a law to protect endangered species, saying he did not know if this were the case. 

The opposition Social Democrats on Monday referred Ulf Kristersson to the parliament’s Committee on the Constitution, requiring him to explain the situation around Nilsson, and about whether Kristersson knew of the poaching incident when he appointed him, and also on the security vetting which took place. 

“We need to get clarity about how the process of recruiting him took place,” Ardalan Shekarabi, the party’s justice spokesman, said. “What we are chiefly reacting against is that the state secretary lied to the authorities.”