Sweden and Finland agree with Turkey on anti-terrorism cooperation to join NATO

Sweden and Finland agree with Turkey on anti-terrorism cooperation to join NATO
Turkey, Sweden and Finland signing the memorandum at the NATO summit in Madrid, 28 June, credit: Twitter/Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde

Turkey decided to drop its veto against Sweden and Finland joining NATO after the three countries signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday evening at the NATO summit in Madrid.

As previously reported, NATO welcomed Sweden and Finland with open arms following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, their applications require unanimity among the 30-members defence alliance.  Turkey opposed their applications and threatened to derail the process over concerns of anti-terrorism and arms sales.

Turkey accused Sweden and Finland of supporting organisations which it considers as terrorist organisations: Kurdistan Workers´ Party (PKK), the Gulenist movement (FETÖ), and the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the leftist Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in north-east Syria.

Turkey demanded that Sweden in particular should extradite alleged terrorists linked to the above organisations and that it should lift its embargo on arms export to Turkey. The Turkish ambassador in Stockholm even included Amineh Kakabaveh, a member of the Swedish parliament (Riksdagen) of Kurdish-Iranian origin, in the list of persons it wanted extradited.

Elected on the list of the Leftist party, she acts now as an independent member of Riksdagen and her vote is crucial for the survival of Swedish minority government. In November last year she supported the Swedish social-democratic prime minister Magdalena Andersson in return for a promise of Swedish cooperation with PYD, the Kurdish party in Syria.

In the memorandum, signed by the foreign ministers of Turkey, Finland and Sweden, under the auspices of NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the three countries committed to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, “in all its forms and manifestations”, and not to provide support to YPG/PYD and FETO.

Furthermore, Finland and Sweden “unambiguously condemn all terrorist organisations perpetrating attacks against Turkey”. They confirm that PKK is a proscribed terrorist organisation and commit to prevent activities of the PKK and its extensions, as well as” activities by individuals in affiliated and inspired groups or networks linked to these terrorist organisations”.

On the issue of arms export, Turkey, Finland and Sweden confirmed that there are no national arms embargoes in place between them. “Sweden is changing its national regulatory framework for arms exports in relation to NATO Allies.”

A crucial clause in the memorandum relates to Turkey’s extradition requests. Finland and Sweden will address “Turkey’s pending deportation or extradition requests of terror suspects expeditiously and thoroughly”, taking in account information and evidence from Turkey, “in accordance with the European Convention on Extradition.”

In the last paragraph of the memorandum, Turkey confirms its support for NATO's Open-Door policy and agrees to support the NATO invitation to Sweden and Finland to become NATO members.

Did Sweden and Finland accept Turkey’s conditions?

“The memorandum is a sort of letter of intent, especially the first nine paragraphs,“ commented Cengiz Aktar, a Turkish professor in political science at National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. “In democratic countries such commitments need to be ratified by the legislative bodies. The only concrete article is the last paragraph (10) where Turkey lifts its so-called veto.”

He referred to the Finnish press release after the signing of the memorandum:  "As we enhance our cooperation on counterterrorism, arms exports and extraditions, Finland naturally continues to operate according to its national legislation".

What does it mean for the Kurdish cause?

“Not much, no one will be deported or extradited by virtue of this memorandum,” he replied. “Turkey has never managed to get any political prisoners or opponents extradited in decades because of its poor legal record.”

“The memorandum is an absolute disgrace,” commented Anna-Sara Malmgren, Professor of Philosophy at Inland Norway University, and co-founder of the US-based Emergency Committee of Rojava. ”Erdoğan's government is guilty of state terrorism, systematic suppression of media and academic freedom, and multiple recent violations of international law, both in Turkey and abroad.”

She added that this has been established beyond doubt, e.g. by the Permanent People’s Tribunal in 2018, and more recently by Amnesty International and other independent human rights organizations.

“Sweden and Finland have now agreed to further support Erdoğan’s fight against the legitimate resistance to his violent autocratic rule, and to refrain from increased cooperation with the independent administration in Rojava (Syria).”

EU’s position

Asked about EU’s position on the Turkish demands, Peter Stano, lead spokesperson for external affairs of the EU, replied that it was a bilateral issue between Turkey and the two EU member states. He confirmed that PKK, but not YPG, is on EU’s list of terrorist organisations.

Currently there are no discussions in the EU about the future of the list and any delisting of PKK, he added. In fact, a delisting of PKK could serve Turkey’s own interests and pave the way for a peaceful solution of a decade-long conflict over local self-government and civil rights.

In Belgium, the listing of PKK has been questioned. In January 2020, the Belgian supreme court ruled that PKK should not be classified as a terrorist organisation but the government did not accept the ruling. According to the court, EU anti-terrorism legislation cannot be applied on PKK since it is party in a non-international armed conflict or civil war where the use of legitimate military force is allowed.

As regards the Turkish complaints about an arms embargo, following its invasion of Kurdish held territories in northern Syria, the EU spokesperson replied that there is no EU-wide embargo against exporting arms to Turkey. Such an embargo would have required a decision by unanimity by all EU member states.

That said, he confirmed that several member states, besides Sweden, have decided not to issue new export licenses for Turkey and some of them are deciding on new licenses on a case-by-case basis. EU member states are committed to applying a common EU position on arms exports dating to 2008.

The position is based on a number of principles and it is up to the EU member states to apply them in their national legislation. It requires among others member states to deny an export license if there is a risk that the military equipment might be used for internal repression or affect adversely regional stability in any significant way.

The memorandum speaks about implementing anti-terrorism legislation in the three countries concerned. The European Commission did not respond immediately to a request for comment on Turkey’s anti-terrorism legislation. The legislation has been criticized by the EU in the accession negotiations with Turkey as a tool to limit freedom of expression and imprison political opponents.

In fact, Turkey has been backsliding for years in the accession process and negotiations have been suspended. As regards its anti-terror legislation, the Commission wrote in its latest country report on Turkey (October 2021) that, while the government has a legitimate right to fight terrorism, it is essential that it does so in accordance with the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

According to the Commission, Turkey needs to align criminal and anti-terror legislation and their implementation with European standards, ECHR and ECtHR case-law and Venice Commission recommendations.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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