Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats set Nato deadline

Sweden's ruling party aims to end its internal discussion over Nato membership on May 12th, after which the party's ruling committee will take a final decision, the party announced after holding a "marathon meeting" in the Swedish parliament.

Sweden's ruling Social Democrats set Nato deadline
Annika Strandhäll, chair of the Social Democratic Women in Sweden, arrives at the party meeting at the Swedish parliament on Friday. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

“The discussion will be completed on May 12th, and after that we will begin the decision process,” Tobias Baudin, the party’s Secretary General, said at a press conference. 

“The discussions have been good and constructive,” he said of the discussions of the security situation. “We have also discussed the process we have ahead of us in the Social Democratic party”. 

The meeting, in the parliament’s second chamber, involved the party’s main committee, its action committee, and all of the party’s MPs. 

As well as security policy, the meeting, which was planned before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, also discussed the party’s annual reports and other internal business. 

The discussion process launched in the Social Democrats is widely seen as intended to build broad support within the party for a coming decision to back Nato membership, overturning the non-aligned security policy which has been at the centre of Social Democrat foreign politics since the 1930s. 

At the last party congress, the party’s members voted to keep its historic policy of staying outside Nato. But Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, now wants to reassess this on the basis of the “changed security policy situation”. 

Annika Strandhäll, chair of S-kvinnor, the party’s women’s organisation, which has long been heavily focused on disarmament and peace activism, said that her organisation was running a parallel dialogue process. 

“We also have a discussion process where members will have the opportunity to be involved in the discussion,” she said. “Which decision the party ends up taking will be taken at a meeting of the party committee which is planned for the end of May.” 

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EXPLAINED: Could Turkey block Sweden from Nato membership?

At the last minute, Turkey has thrown up objections to a future Swedish Nato membership. What's going on?

EXPLAINED: Could Turkey block Sweden from Nato membership?

What’s happened? 

On Friday, Turkey’s president surprised everyone in the Nato process by saying that it “would be a mistake” to admit Finland and Sweden, given the way the two countries have sheltered members of groups which Turkey views as terrorist, such as the Kurdish nationalist PKK and YPG, and members of the Gülenist movement. On Saturday, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde met her counterpart Mevlüt Cavusoglu, but failed to make any headway. 

Why is Turkey unhappy? 

Turkey has long accused Sweden, and to a lesser extent Finland, of providing asylum to members of PKK, an armed group fighting for parts of northeastern Turkey to become a Kurdish homeland, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the US, EU and some other countries. 

There are no official statistics on the number of Kurds living in Sweden, but Kurdish groups estimate the number at as much as 100,000, including six MPs of Kurdish origin. 

Sweden has given significant support to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, which is defended by the YPG militia, which Turkey views as a terrorist group. Sweden has given the administration some $50 million in aid. 

“The problem is that these two countries are openly supporting and engaging with PKK and YPG [People’s Protection Units],” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday as he arrived at a Nato meeting in Berlin. “These are terrorist organisations that have been attacking our troops every day.” 

What does Turkey want? 

According to Reuters, Turkey has demanded that Sweden and Finland extradite a wish-list of 33 people it sees as linked to the PKK, YPG, or else to the Gülenist movement Turkey blames for a coup attempt in 2016. 

Çavuşoğlu has also called for Sweden and Finland to clamp down on “outlets, activities, organisations, individuals and other types of presence” linked to the PKK. 

He has also called for and end to what he called “arms aid” from Sweden to Kurdish organisations. 

What has Sweden done so far? 

Sweden’s foreign minister Ann Linde met with Cavusoglu on Saturday. After the meeting, she was categorical that Sweden viewed PKK as a terrorist group, but said that she did believe that the Kurdish government in northern Syria was part of the same organisation. 

Both Sweden and Finland have refused to extradite the individuals on Turkey’s wish-list. 

Sweden’s defence minister Peter Hultqvist told Swedish state broadcaster SVT on Monday that Sweden would now send a group of officials to Turkey to try to work out how to meet the country’s concerns. 

Might Turkey end up blocking Sweden’s membership? 

For a new member to be admitted to Nato requires the consensus of all existing members, so theoretically, yes, it could. 

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, on Saturday expressed a willingness to compromise. 

“We are not closing the door. But we are basically raising this issue as a matter of national security for Turkey,” Kalin told Reuters in an interview. 

Hultqvist told Swedish television on Monday that Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had told him that Turkey had not raised any objections to Swedish and Finnish membership earlier in the process and that he expected that an agreement could be reached.