EU’s deposit refund scheme a ‘false solution’ for plastic pollution

The European Union in early March announced its goal of establishing deposit refund schemes for plastic bottles and aluminium cans across the bloc by 2029. While EU authorities boast of high recycling rates in member states that have already adopted the practice, environmental groups denounce it as a “false solution” that doesn’t “tackle the real problem”.

The EU aims to become a star performer in the fight against plastic pollution. The bloc’s 27 countries earlier this month announced measures to address packaging waste that aim to achieve 100 percent recycling rates by 2035 and a 15 percent reduction in waste volume by 2040. According to Eurostat, the average European citizen generated 188.7 kilograms of packaging waste in 2021, an increase of 32 kilograms over a decade. Only 64 percent of that amount is recycled today.

Among the various types of packaging filling trash bins in Europe, two make up the majority: plastic bottles and aluminium cans. In France alone, an estimated 340,000 tonnes of plastic bottles were produced for sale in 2022 and only 50 percent were recycled, according to France’s national agency for ecological transition.

To address this problem, the EU proposes to implement a bloc-wide deposit refund system by 2029. Plastic bottles and aluminium cans would be sold for a few cents more, around five to 10 percent of the product’s price, but the consumer could recoup the added cost by bringing the container to a collection point after use. The process is already well-established in 15 European countries including Germany, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian states.

The EU reports record recycling rates in each country where a deposit system already exists. In Germany, all supermarkets have had machines dedicated to “Pfand” (deposits) for returned plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans since 2003. While consumers are not obligated to use them, the practice has become part of everyday life. “Pfandsammler” (deposit hunters) clear the streets of used containers to help make ends meet. Up to 98.5 percent of bottles and cans are recycled via the deposit system in Germany, according to the Centre for European Consumption.

A similar situation exists in the Nordic countries. In Sweden, aluminium cans have been returnable since 1984; plastic bottles since 1994. The country recycles more than two billion of these containers a year, according to the government. In Norway, the system is a little different: Beverage packaging is subject to an environmental tax, but its amount decreases as the waste collection rate increases. This measure encouraged producers and distributors to introduce a deposit system in 1999. The country’s recycling rate for glass and plastic bottles borders is close to 90 percent.

This graphic shows which European countries have already implemented deposit programmes for recycled materials. Dark blue = already implemented, blue = planned implementation, light blue = without a widespread programme, white = information unavailable. Red = glass, yellow = plastic, green = aluminium. © ENTR

A dangerous ‘rebound effect’

Deposit refund systems are not, however, “miracle solutions”, says Manon Richert, communications manager for the NGO Zero Waste France. “This system can certainly help improve recycling figures, but it doesn’t target the goal we need to have: drastically reducing our production of plastic.”

“By itself, it’s just another way to sort packaging … it won’t change anything that happens to plastic bottles,” says Richert. Once deposited, a bottle will have the same fate as one placed in a traditional recycling bin. It will be collected and sent to a waste treatment plant. Bottles made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate, a type of plastic) will be used to make new ones; other bottles will be transformed into flakes and resold to make polyester, especially in Asia. “These processes require a lot of water and energy and generate microplastics,” Richert says.

Read moreTackling plastic pollution: ‘We can’t recycle our way out of this’

According to the activist, a bloc-wide deposit system could above all produce a “rebound effect” that would encourage consumers to continue buying plastic bottles – the opposite of the EU’s goal. “For years, we have been fed a discourse that presents waste sorting and recycling as an easy green gesture, and we have spread the idea that buying plastic isn’t so bad if we recycle it. And now, we’re going to add a financial incentive,” she says. “This could have the perverse effect of boosting consumption of plastic bottles.”

This effect has already been seen in Germany. A law passed in 2003 aimed to reduce single-use containers to 20 percent of the market, but the opposite has happened: single-use plastic bottles now account for 71 percent of the market compared with 40 percent a decade ago, according to a 2021 University of Halle-Wittenberg study. “It seems that the introduction of a single-use deposit system promotes a narrow mode of thinking and a focus on recycling, which hinders the revitalisation of multi-use BC (beverage container) systems,” the authors found.

“Behind the recycling deposit, it’s more a battle of financial interests than an environmental issue that’s at stake,” says Richert. In recent years, politicians have done more to force manufacturers to use a growing proportion of recycled plastic in production. The demand for recycled plastic has thus grown, and the material has become more expensive.

Collecting and recycling more bottles would increase the quantity of recycled plastic available, therefore lowering its price – “not exactly what encourages manufacturers to reduce production,” says Richert. “In the end, this measure risks maintaining the plastic production cycle, when we need to break it.”

In France, where debate on a deposit system is lively, the collection and sorting of rubbish is currently managed by local and regional authorities, who sell the trash to recyclers. In moving to a deposit system, the management of used plastics would revert to manufacturers, who would recover a financial windfall.

“The manufacturers are not going to get rich” under such a system, retorts Hélène Courades, director general of beverage industry group Boissons rafraîchissantes de France, which includes Coca-Cola and Pepsi, told Le Figaro. “The resale of this material would make it possible to finance the system.”

Recycling vs reuse

Zero Waste France, like other environmental organisations, is actively campaigning for a different system: a deposit for reuse, mostly for glass. “This existed in France until the 1980s,” says Richert. “The idea is to collect the containers to wash them and reuse them as-is, in line with the principle of a circular economy.”

“If this were organised on a local scale with, for example, optimisation and pooling of transport, the environmental and social impact would be very beneficial,” she says. But while such local and voluntary initiatives have been increasing in recent years, the system has not yet been adopted by the political discourse. “It requires a real paradigm shift and a true effort on the part of the government,” says Richert. “But it’s this kind of measure that can really get us away from disposable packaging and our addiction to plastic.”

This article is a translation of the original in French.

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Sweden’s call for population to prepare for war sparks panic and criticism

It’s been described as a bombshell moment. The upper echelons of Sweden’s government and defence forces last week shocked the nation by explicitly warning that war might come to Sweden, and that each and every Swede should prepare themselves. While some have taken the warning seriously and flocked to the stores to stock up on fuel and survival kits, others have accused the country’s leaders of fear-mongering.

Gustav Wallbom, a 37-year-old entrepreneur and farmer who was conscripted into Sweden’s compulsory military service before it was put on hold between 2010 and 2017, was not the least bit surprised by the call for Swedes to ready themselves for war.

“The fact that Russia, which is very near Sweden, is unreliable is not something new, and all the cases of espionage lately and Russia’s attempts to influence [public opinion] just add to that,” he said.

Heeding the call from officials, Wallbom, like many other Swedes, immediately headed to the hardware store to stock up on equipment for his and his family’s “crisis kit”.

“I bought fuel, lamp oil, matches and water tanks,” said Wallbom, who is a military reservist and who, as late as last week, received a letter announcing his new posting in the case of war.

Gustav Wallbom, a Swedish military reservist, was not the least surprised by the officials’ warnings of the dangers of Russia. © Gustav Wallbom, private

“I’m more surprised that some feel that the dangers have been exaggerated,” he said. “To me, that’s like burying your head in the sand.”

Wallbom was referring to what had happened at an annual security conference in Sälen in western Sweden a week ago.

Carl-Oscar Bohlin, the minister for civil defence, had told a stunned audience that “war could come to Sweden”, and that the tiny Nordic nation of 10.4 million needs to gear up. Fast.

Further fuel was added to the fire when Sweden’s commander-in-chief, Micael Bydén, then warned the same gathering that “Russia’s war against Ukraine is just a step, not an end game”. In a follow-up interview with national broadcaster TV4, he said that that all Swedes needed to prepare for war.

“We need to realise how serious the situation really is, and that everyone, individually, need to prepare themselves mentally,” he said.

Where are the bomb shelters?

Although this was not the first time the country’s officials had warned against the dangers of their increasingly aggressive neighbour Russia, it was the first time they explicitly said Sweden could potentially become its target – and a warzone.

Elin Bohman, a spokeswoman at the Swedish civil contingencies agency (MSB), which specialises in crisis management, said the comments had prompted a 3,500 percent increase in visits to the agency’s web-based map of bomb shelters, and a 900 percent increase in downloads of its information booklet “If crisis or war comes”.

“We haven’t experienced such demand since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine,” she said.

Sweden's information booklet 'If crisis or war comes' is distributed to all Swedish households and can also be downloaded.
The information booklet ‘If crisis or war comes’ was issued for the first time during World War II. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea it was revived again. © Thomas Henrikson, Handout MSB

The booklet was first issued during World War II and was distributed to all Swedish households in waves throughout the Cold War until 1961. In 2018, it was revised and re-issued again on the back of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

“[The illegal annexation] was an awakening for the Swedish preparedness system,” Bohman explained. “All of a sudden the global situation changed, meaning we went from focusing only on peacetime crises to also include total defence planning in a bid to strengthen our total defence system. And a part of that was to ensure that we have a well-informed and prepared population.”

In 2022, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the booklet was sent out again. It contains information on how to prepare for and act in a crisis situation, ranging from everything from power cuts and forest fires to cyber attacks and war.  

At the same time, MSB also encouraged Swedes to prepare “crisis kits” at home, containing necessities like a radio, food, water, a sleeping bag and a camping stove.

The Swedish 'If crisis or war comes' booklet contains information on how to best prepare for a crisis or a war situation.
The booklet contains information on how to prepare for a crisis, including war. © Thomas Henrikson, Handout MSB

Some companies have since capitalised on this new “crisis kit” market, offering ready-made food kits that can last up to 25 years.

Multiple arrests, cyber-attacks and GPS-jamming

Since 2022, and in particular after Sweden defied Russian threats and launched a bid to join the NATO military alliance, the situation in the country has grown more and more tense. Prior to its NATO application, Sweden had not been aligned militarily for 200 years. Neither Turkey nor Hungary have green-lit the application yet, but the Turkish decision is now only a parliament vote away.

In the past year alone, Swedish police have arrested several people suspected of spying or carrying out information-gathering for Russia. Swedish authorities have also seen a surge in cyber-attacks, and in December, a large area over the Baltic Sea was subject to a number of GPS-jamming incidents, causing several airplanes to lose their satellite-derived navigation signals. In the same period, Russia carried out a military exercise in the area with the aim of “undermining enemy navigation and radio communications”.

Some threats have intensified, [as has] the pure military threat, the threat of an armed attack, and the fact that we might be drawn into an escalation of the war in Ukraine. We’re seeing that very clearly when we study Russia,” Thomas Nilsson, the head of Sweden’s military intelligence and security service MUST told Swedish Radio in an interview on the sidelines of the security conference.

The TikTok backlash

But although last week’s comments may have been intended to place the Swedes on guard more than anything else, they also generated many negative reactions. Especially after making it onto the social media platform TikTok, whose main audience largely consists of children and teenagers.

“My children saw the TikTok and asked us about it,” said one Swedish mother of two who did not want to be named. “It’s hard for kids to focus and watch full clips, so what they basically see is just the headline: “War could come to Sweden”.

The child of one of her colleagues had seen the clip and come home in tears, she said. 

Swedish child protection group BRIS said its hotline had been saturated with calls from worried children after the blunt comments on war had spread online, prompting its secretary general Magnus Jagerskog to plead with media to take more care in how they relay news to children.

“For many children who are easily anxious or who are already worried about war, it became [even more] difficult when they were faced with social media posts and adults talking on the news about war,” he wrote in a statement. 

But the comments have also resulted in a political backlash. While the right-wing government has been accused of trying to win over supporters from the far right, the army has been accused of fear-mongering in a bid to up the annual defence spending budget.  

“Playing with the threat of war as part of the political opinion campaign is immoral but who is surprised?” Carl Tham, a former minister and a member of the Social Democrat opposition, wrote in an opinion piece in daily tabloid Aftonbladet.

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, whose right-wing party is in a government coalition with the far-right Sweden Democrat party, has defended the hardened war rhetoric.

“A government should of course speak clearly, anything else would be irresponsible,” he told Radio Sweden in an interview on Thursday, but noted that “there is nothing that suggests that war is at the door”.  

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Why is Turkey finally getting behind Sweden’s NATO bid?

The last Nordic country to join the alliance is still waiting for Turkey and Hungary to clear its path.


Sweden edged closer toward joining NATO on Tuesday after the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee greenlit a protocol for the Nordic country’s accession to the military alliance.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dropped his objection to Sweden’s membership during a NATO summit in July, but it took him several months to send the bill to parliament for ratification and weeks for the parliamentary committee to give its consent.

The long-delayed protocol now needs to be approved by the full general assembly and it remains to be seen how quickly the issue will be taken up by the floor.

Sweden and Finland abandoned their decades-long neutrality and sought membership in NATO amid heightened security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. 

Finland became NATO’s 31st member earlier this year, after Turkey’s parliament ratified its bid.

Why the delay?

Turkey’s opposition to Swedish membership in NATO stemmed from its belief that the Nordic country has been too soft toward supporters of Kurdish militants and other groups in Sweden that Ankara views as security threats.

These include people associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which has waged a 39-year insurgency in Turkey and people with alleged links to a coup attempt in 2016 against Erdoğan. Others are critics of the Turkish leader. 

Some observers have warned giving in to Ankara’s demands could undermine Sweden’s sovereignty, as well as the rights of those Erdoğan wants extradited to Turkey. 

Turkey, Sweden and Finland reached an agreement last year to tackle Ankara’s security concerns and Stockholm subsequently took steps to tighten its anti-terrorism laws, making support for extremist organisations punishable by up to eight years in prison.

But a series of anti-Turkey and anti-Islam protests in Stockholm, some of which involved the burning of the Quran, angered Erdoğan’s government and the Turkish public.

While the demonstrations were condemned by the Swedish government, Turkey criticised Sweden – which has strict laws protecting free speech – for allowing displays of anti-Muslim sentiment.

What’s changed?

While Sweden strengthened its antiterrorism laws to address Ankara’s security concerns, NATO agreed to establish a special coordinator for counterterrorism and appointed Assistant Secretary-General Tom Goffus to the position.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the alliance’s summit in July that Sweden had agreed “to support actively the efforts to reinvigorate Turkey’s EU accession process.” 

Stockholm announced it would seek improved customs arrangements and take steps to implement visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens.

Turkey’s EU membership talks came to a standstill in 2018 because of the country’s democratic backsliding and poor record on human rights.

Earlier this month, Erdoğan openly linked Sweden’s NATO membership to Ankara’s efforts to purchase US-made F-16 fighter jets. He also called on Canada and other NATO allies to lift arms embargoes on Turkey.

Some Western states banned arms exports to Turkey in 2019, following its military incursion into northern Syria against Kurdish militias. 

During Tuesday’s debate at the parliamentary committee, opposition legislator Oguz Kaan Salici questioned whether the government had received assurances from the United States concerning the sale of the F-16s.


US President Joe Biden’s administration backs Turkey’s F-16 request, but many in the US Congress strongly oppose selling arms to Turkey, which wants to buy 40 new F-16 fighter jets and modernisation kits for its existing fleet.

What happens next?

The approval by the parliamentary committee paves the way for Sweden’s accession protocol to be debated and ratified by the general assembly. It would then have to be signed off by Erdoğan to come into effect.

It was not clear when the full assembly would debate the bill.

Erdoğan’s ruling AK party and its allies command a majority in the 600-seat parliament. 

However, the Turkish president has said the decision rests with lawmakers. His ruling party’s nationalist allies remain uneasy with Sweden’s membership and accuse NATO members of indifference toward the PKK threat to Turkey.


This week, Kurdish militants attempted to infiltrate a Turkish base in northern Iraq, killing 12 soldiers in two days of clashes.

Islamist parties, frustrated by what they perceive to be Western nations’ silence toward Israel’s military actions in Gaza, may vote against the bill.

The Hungarian factor

Hungary, the only other NATO holdout on Sweden, has not announced when the country’s ratification may occur.

Hungary’s governing Fidesz party – led by populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who is widely considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s only allies in the EU – has stalled Sweden’s NATO bid since July 2022, alleging that Swedish politicians have told “blatant lies” about the condition of Hungary’s democracy.

Yet neither Orbán nor his senior officials have indicated what kind of redress they require from Stockholm to allay their reservations over Sweden joining the military alliance.


Some critics have alleged that Hungary is using its potential veto power over Sweden’s accession as a tool to leverage concessions from the European Union, which has frozen billions in funds to Budapest over concerns over minority rights and the rule of law.

Hungarian officials have said repeatedly that their country will not be the last NATO member to endorse Sweden’s bid. But Ankara’s move toward ratification suggests that the time for further holdups may be running out.

Some opposition politicians in Hungary – who have argued for immediate approval of Sweden’s bid – believe that Orbán’s party is following Ankara’s timetable and will vote to approve once it seems clear that Turkey will imminently do the same.

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Musk’s woes deepen as Tesla strike spreads across Scandinavia

Sweden v. Musk

The labour dispute between Tesla and its repair workshop mechanics that originated in Sweden on October 27 has escalated to include Denmark, Finland and Norway. As the stakes rise, Elon Musk’s electric vehicle manufacturer continues to resist signing a collective agreement with its Swedish employees.

Tesla majority-shareholder and CEO Elon Musk faces growing resistance in Scandinavia’s social democracies after refusing to sign a collective agreement determining the minimum wage of his employees.

The dispute, which initially involved only 130 mechanics at ten Tesla repair workshops across seven Swedish cities, has ballooned into an international strike movement.

“The mistake [American multinational] Tesla made was challenging the collective agreements that set sector-specific minimum wages in Sweden, a country where 70% of the population is unionised, compared with only 8% of private sector workers in France,” says Yohann Aucante, a political scientist and Scandinavia specialist at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris.

Concerned about safeguarding collective agreements, which cover nearly 90% of all employees in Sweden, 15 Swedish unions have joined the strike at the request of the powerful IF Metall union since it kicked off on October 27.

Transporters are refusing to deliver vehicles while electricians are declining to repair charging stations. Cleaning staff have stopped cleaning showrooms, garbage is piling up outside Tesla centres as refuse collectors refuse to pick it up, and the Swedish postal service has stopped delivering license plates essential for registering new Teslas.

On the retail end of the supply chain, car dealerships have stopped offering Teslas and Stockholm taxis have suspended their Tesla purchases.

Neighbours join fight

Far from stopping in Sweden, the “sympathy strike” has spread to the country’s Nordic cousins who also see Tesla’s ambitions as threatening their labour models.

“There are also strong collective agreements and unions in Norway, especially in Denmark, where these agreements determine the majority of labour law,” says Aucante. “Therefore, Norwegians and Danes are keen on this model which gives unions some negotiating power against employers.”

After Denmark’s largest union, 3F, declared a solidarity strike with Swedish workers on December 5, Norway’s largest private sector union warned on December 6 that it would block the transit of Tesla cars to Sweden if the American automaker did not reach an agreement with its Swedish workers by December 20.

The following day, the Finnish transport workers’ union AKT offered the same pledge. “It is a crucial part of the Nordic labour market model that we have collective agreements and unions support each other,” AKT president Ismo Kokko said in a statement.

International sympathy strikes are rare, but not unprecedented says Aucante. The last major mobilisation dates back to 1995 when the American toy company Toys “R” Us tried to bypass unions and impose its own salary rules. The retailer eventually yielded after three months of strikes in Sweden and Europe. 

Musk outraged

The revolt has provoked outrage from Musk who described the industrial action as “insane” on his social network, X, on November 23.

In response, Tesla filed a request to compel the Swedish postal operator to deliver the license plates and sought compensation for a loss of over €87,000. However, its prosecution request was rejected on December 7 by a Swedish court.

The carmaker is now actively seeking a government affairs specialist in Sweden to help resolve the issue. A job listing posted recently on the Tesla careers website shows the company is looking for someone with a “proven track record of getting regulatory changes made in the Nordics”.

Nordic investors ‘deeply concerned’

Another, more serious threat to Musk is a group of powerful pension funds in the region which have begun criticising Tesla’s conduct.

A group of Nordic investors, which include Norway‘s largest pension fund KLP, Sweden’s Folksam and Denmark‘s PFA, defended the Swedish labour market model in a letter sent to Tesla on Thursday, saying they are “deeply concerned” about the situation.

“We as Nordic investors acknowledge the decade-old tradition of collective bargaining, and therefore urge Tesla to reconsider your current approach to unions,” the letter reads.

The investor letter also asks for a meeting with Tesla’s board in early 2024 to discuss the matter.

Some funds, acting individually, have gone further in their critique. Kiran Aziz, head of responsible investments at KLP, which holds around €195 million in Tesla shares, said it’s not “just about the labour model in the Nordic but about fundamental human rights”.

Read moreMacron, Musk meet in Paris to discuss future investment in France

In Denmark, the pension fund PensionDanmark has decided it’s already seen enough. It sold its 476 million Danish crowns (€64 million) in Tesla holdings on December 7.

The Norges Bank Investment Bank (NBIM), which operates the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund and is the seventh-largest Tesla shareholder with a stake of around €6.3 billion, did not sign on to the letter. However, it declared last week that it would continue to pressure the company to respect labour rights, such as collective bargaining.

A blow to branding

For Tesla, the stakes are high. “As Scandinavians are the leading consumers of Tesla in Europe, the company has no interest in prolonging a conflict that will severely damage its image,” says Aucante, who believes Tesla will have to make concessions.

“With the trend towards greening economies, it’s ‘bad form’ to produce cars in China when building an electric car aimed at reducing carbon impact,” adds Aucante. “That’s why Tesla is trying to bring back some of its production to Europe, but labour costs are not the same, and there are more regulations here.”

While the strike currently affects only northern European countries, there is speculation it could inspire the 11,000 employees at Tesla’s largest European operation, the Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg.

German employees secured a 4% salary increase in early November as a result of pressure from German unions – a concession which could be linked to the fear of the strike in Nordic countries migrating south, according to the Washington Post.

Across the Atlantic, Tesla workers have yet to unionise. However, after the United Auto Workers (UAW) successfully negotiated deals with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis in November, Tesla is likely worried about unions back home, too.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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In fact, this is why Sweden should ultimately join NATO

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

One does not need to be a master strategist to realise that due to the country’s geographic position, Sweden’s accession to NATO would significantly strengthen the alliance in the entire Baltic Sea region, Dr András Rácz writes.


On 6 October, Euronews published an op-ed by Dr Gladden Pappin, president of the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, about why Sweden may not join NATO

Some of Dr Pappin’s arguments are indeed worth attention, though certainly not endorsement, while others, unfortunately, require factual corrections.

For one, Russia definitely is a threat.

Dr Pappin, known more as a political philosopher than a security expert, argues that there is not much urgency to get Sweden into the alliance. 

According to him, with its forces bogged down in Ukraine, Russia is not going to launch incursions into NATO territory anytime soon and “claims about Russia’s imperial ambitions seem hardly credible.” 

This assessment is indeed surprising taking into account that Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine is raging in the direct neighbourhood of Hungary, while also claiming the lives of ethnic Hungarian soldiers in the Ukrainian army.

What makes Dr Pappin’s line particularly noteworthy is that it directly contradicts the newest assessment of NATO. 

According to the final communique of the Vilnius Summit, released on 11 July, “the Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.” 

In other words, while all members of the alliance agreed in Vilnius that Russia is the most important threat NATO needs to face, for some reason Dr Pappin tried to convince his readers about the opposite. 

By doing so, he implicitly contradicted even the Hungarian government, which also approved the Vilnius summit communique.

Sweden would make NATO considerably stronger

Another surprising element of Dr Pappin’s article is that according to him, “Sweden’s military contribution to NATO would be rather slender.” 

However, the opposite is true, even according to Hungarian officials. Only a few days after his opinion article, Hungary’s Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Gábor Böröndi gave an interview in which he explicitly stated that the Swedish armed forces are suitably ready for NATO accession, adding that that the question of Sweden’s accession is primarily a political matter.

General Böröndi is certainly right. According to The Military Balance 2023, Sweden’s defence budget was slightly above $8 billion (€7.5bn) in 2022, thus nearly 2,5 times bigger than Hungary’s $2,99bn (€2.8bn).

Sweden has a small, but well-trained, very well-equipped armed force configured for territorial defence. Just to give one example: the country’s air force possesses nearly a hundred JAS-39 Gripen fighters. 

Somewhat ironically, the sole jet fighter operated by the Hungarian Air Force happens to be the same Gripen: approximately a dozen of them were leased from Sweden. Budapest is in the process of extending the lease contract that is about the expire in 2026.

A key element of Dr Pappin’s argument for the delayed accession ratification is that there is a deficit of trust in Budapest vis-à-vis Stockholm, meaning that Sweden shall not join until disagreements are resolved. 

However, had there been a real loss of trust, it is highly unlikely that Hungary would strive to maintain its military technological dependence on Sweden by extending the Gripen lease contract.

Putting cold steel aside, one does not need to be a master strategist to realise that due to the country’s geographic position, Sweden’s accession to NATO would significantly strengthen the alliance in the entire Baltic Sea region. 


Sweden’s membership would decisively help improve the collective defence provided to our Finnish, Polish and Baltic allies on all levels, ranging from strategic planning to military logistics.

Concerted ambiguity in Hungary’s communication

Dr Pappin’s article appears to be part of a wider Hungarian communication manoeuvre aimed at creating ambiguity about Budapest’s position on Sweden’s accession, thus probably buying it time. 

The Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, presided by him, is an integral part of the Hungarian government. The HIIA is directly subordinated to the Office of the Prime Minister, and so is Dr Pappin. 

Generally speaking, no employee of any government would be allowed to publish opinion pieces on the policies of the given government without prior coordination and approval. 

Hence, the article of Dr Pappin is certainly not independent of the official policy of the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.


Interestingly enough, in terms of content, the article appears to contradict the official Hungarian explanations of why Sweden’s accession has not yet been ratified. 

Earlier, the government claimed that it already endorsed and supported Sweden in joining NATO; it is only the parliament that is unwilling to ratify the accession. 

However, this article casts some doubt on the credibility of this argument: had the Hungarian government been really in favour of Stockholm’s accession, no government officials would have published critical articles about Sweden’s readiness.

Contradictions aplenty

The Hungarian parliament, which is officially delaying the ratification of Sweden’s NATO accession, is dominated by the constitutional majority of the ruling coalition led by Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party. 

Their parliamentary supermajority has been serving the government with impeccable obedience since 2010: in the Hungarian parliament, it is fairly normal that core numbers of the budget get modified literally overnight or that the parliament amends the constitution in a few days’ time, without any meaningful debate. 


This parliament is unlikely to suddenly stand up against the government, particularly in a question of such strategic importance as the expansion of NATO.

Still, on the very same day when Dr Pappin’s article came out, an interview came out with Zsolt Németh, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Hungarian parliament, a veteran Fidesz politician and known foreign policy expert. 

Németh, who is as independent of the government as the rest of his parliamentary fraction, argued that Hungary would certainly support Sweden’s accession and the alliance would be stronger with Stockholm joining. 

In other words, two Hungarian officials voiced their opinions directly contradicting each other and did so exactly at the same time. The interview of General Böröndi may well be part of the same communication effort.

Who profits?

While discussing in detail why Sweden is supposedly not ready for NATO, Dr Pappin elegantly avoids even mentioning a key question: who does the Hungarian policy line actually benefit? 


Németh was more open in his interview: he admitted that Hungary closely coordinates with Turkey on when the Swedish accession should be ratified.

Turkey is certainly benefiting from the Hungarian policy, as Ankara does not need to be alone in delaying Sweden’s accession. 

Turkey has been conducting a tough, but entirely rational, calculated policy: it has set a number of demands both vis-à-vis Sweden and the US. Once Ankara’s requests can be agreed upon, Turkey is highly likely to approve Sweden’s accession.

Meanwhile, there are simply no demands from the Hungarian side. Unlike Ankara, Budapest is not asking for anything at all from Stockholm, focusing solely on making critical remarks. 

This renders it unclear what Hungary would actually gain from delaying Sweden’s accession. It is at least questionable whether paying lip service to Ankara would be worth the damage inflicted upon the credibility of Budapest as a NATO ally.


Meanwhile, Russia is applauding the delay

Meanwhile, there is another player that certainly does not mind the delayed Swedish NATO accession: Russia. 

Moscow has long been opposed to any enlargement of NATO. From the Kremlin’s perspective, Sweden’s NATO membership would mean that the Baltic Sea became “Lake NATO”, limiting the power of Russia’s Baltic Fleet, as well as of the other assets deployed to Kaliningrad. 

This forces Moscow to adjust its entire military posture in the Baltic Sea region. This is already happening, as Russia is in the process of recreating the old Leningrad Military District. 

As the process is at least cumbersome, Moscow certainly applauds the extra time granted by the delayed Swedish NATO accession. And from this perspective, Hungary is serving not only Turkish but also Russian interests.

Dr András Rácz is a Senior Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).


At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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This is why Sweden might not join NATO after all

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Joining NATO is not like joining the Schengen Zone — it is a commitment to shed blood for one another in the event of any invasion, Dr Gladden Pappin writes.


Fifteen months after Sweden was invited to join NATO, its accession to the joint defence alliance is at a clear inflexion point. 

Until this summer, Sweden’s accession looked like a fait accompli, pending what everyone assumed would be an eventual, pro forma approval by Hungary and Turkey. 

But as Ukraine’s defensive efforts have run aground and attention has turned elsewhere even in the most hawkish corners of the Western alliance, the Swedish candidacy is firmly on the rocks.

It is worth asking why. 

‘Rapid shedding of historical neutrality’

In the weeks after the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, fundamental assumptions about the structure of the Western alliance were thrown out the window. 

Age-old policies of neutrality suddenly looked “immoral,” and pressure was duly brought on Sweden and Finland to step away from the sidelines and join NATO. 

During the spring of 2022, Swedes themselves expressed concern at the rapid shedding of their historical neutrality. Yet international frustration is currently directed at Turkey and Hungary for not yet ratifying Sweden’s accession.

Hungary and Turkey aren’t stalling arbitrarily. The core problem with Sweden’s accession is that treating it as an inevitable expansion has undermined trust within the alliance. 

Resolving potential points of dispute prior to expansion is essential for a defensive alliance. 

Unlike a mere security alliance where military norms and methods are harmonised, a mutual defensive alliance demands a far higher level of commitment. 

Joining NATO is not like joining the Schengen Zone; it is a commitment to shed blood for one another in the event of any invasion.

Risks that need to be resolved beforehand

In the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NATO’s senior members and international influencers decided to push hard for its expansion — on an expedited basis, sidestepping typical NATO procedures. 

But when diplomats describe Hungary’s hesitations about ratifying Sweden as an “annoying sideshow,” they stir bad blood which does not contribute to the strengthening of a defensive alliance. 

While Hungary and Turkey have agreed to NATO’s expansion at a political and diplomatic level, the decision ultimately rests with the parliaments of both countries.

There are other reasons that Sweden’s accession has stalled, as well. In recent months, Sweden has been undergoing a series of violent public incidents surrounding the burning of the Quran that have angered Turkey and prompted disappointment from the Hungarian foreign ministry as well. 

Just recently, Sweden’s police chief Anders Thornberg noted that the country has experienced an “unprecedented” wave of violence.

NATO’s founding documents imply that internal stability and security, as well as mutual compatibility, are preconditions for accession and that internal strife shouldn’t be imported into NATO. 

According to Article 4, parties to the treaty “will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” 


Allowing a new member to join NATO while it undergoes internal turmoil, or is in political tension with an existing member, brings with it obvious risks that should be resolved beforehand.

Engaging in careful diplomatic cultivation

Some level of cultural compatibility is also assumed by accession. Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty insists that “the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations” among the parties result from the treaty. Both Hungary and Turkey have complaints on these grounds. 

In April, Sweden joined the European Commission’s case against Hungary at the European Court of Justice — part of the EU-level actions that are holding up billions of euros of funds to which Hungary is otherwise entitled.

As a diplomatic strategy for paving the way to accession, decisions like these are strange, to say the least.

Second, state educational programming in Sweden has characterised Hungary as a backsliding democracy — drawing outrage from Hungarian parliamentarians. 


While some have sought to pooh-pooh the anti-Hungarian educational material, noting that it was several years old, these issues are precisely the type that should be sorted out prior to accession. 

Instead of engaging in careful diplomatic cultivation of Hungary, Sweden has assumed that Budapest will follow Ankara and hence does not require much direct attention. Such an approach is hardly good preparation for a defensive alliance.

Periodic Quran burnings need to be resolved in satisfactory manner

Similarly, an important part of Turkey’s international image is as a guardian of Islamic culture and civilisation. 

The periodic burnings of the Quran that occur in Sweden are not only offensive to Turkey but also indicate the presence of a difficult internal situation. 

Although Hungary comes from a different cultural background, it enjoys good relations with Turkey and is able to understand the perspective that has caused Ankara to take a cautious approach toward the Swedish accession. 


Currently, it is an open question whether these matters can be resolved in a manner satisfactory to Turkey as well as to the parliamentary representatives of Hungary’s voters.

From a security standpoint, the urgency of the early days of the war has also faded. With Russia bogged down in Ukraine, it is not going to be launching incursions into NATO territory anytime soon, and claims about Russia’s imperial ambitions seem hardly credible. 

Arguments for NATO’s expansion now have to be made in a more specific and strategic, not broad-brush manner. 

Sweden’s accession is on hold precisely because Turkey and Hungary understand the nature of the alliance and want to proceed only when the diplomatic, strategic and political elements have been fully resolved.

Urgency to join NATO subsided

The larger reason, then, is that Sweden’s accession to NATO no longer looks like an urgent military imperative for key NATO members. 


Sweden’s military contribution to NATO would be rather slender, and the scenarios for mutual defence are likelier to involve committing American troops to protect Sweden than vice versa. 

Given that cultural differences among NATO members — and within countries — have already been increasing, it is important to ask whether each expansion strengthens overall defensive resilience or stretches mutual goodwill beyond the breaking point, by creating mutual obligations that eventually generate animosity.

In recent days, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has explained that Poland will not be transferring new arms acquisitions to Ukraine. 

Likewise, President Andrzej Duda has warned that Poland will not be pulled down along with Ukraine, as the latter continues to suffer. 

With NATO’s most hawkish members hesitant about their own arms transfers, while the alliance itself remains formally uninvolved, it is natural that overall sentiment toward expansion might also cool or slow.


NATO membership is a serious committment

Ultimately, it is crucial to understand what the commitment to NATO membership means both for an incoming member and for existing members of NATO. 

Decisions about expanding collective defence obligations can only be made clearly when that is evaluated frankly and democratically by each existing member. 

With the rush of spring 2022 now a fading memory, the opportunity for cooler heads to ask questions has now arisen.

Sweden may yet join NATO, or the difficulties that have arisen may block its path for the foreseeable future. 

Either way, the overall interests of the alliance are served only when each member — including the new one — is fully prepared for the mutual obligations such a step entails.


Dr Gladden Pappin is President of the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs (HIIA). Since 2021, he has been living in Hungary and has been a senior guest lecturer at Mathias Corvinus Collegium.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Thousands in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon protest Koran desecration in Sweden

Thousands of people took to the streets in a handful of Muslim-majority countries Friday to express their outrage at the desecration of a copy of the Koran in Sweden, a day after protesters stormed the country’s embassy in Iraq.

The protests in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran that followed weekly prayers were controlled and peaceful, in contrast to scenes in Baghdad on Thursday, when demonstrators occupied the Swedish Embassy compound for several hours and set a small fire.

The embassy staff had been evacuated before the storming, and Swedish news agency TT reported that they were relocated to Stockholm for security reasons.

For Muslims, any desecration of the Koran, their holy text, is abhorrent. 

Under scorching heat Friday, thousands gathered in Baghdad’s Sadr City, a stronghold of influential Iraqi Shiite cleric and political leader Moqtada al-Sadr, some of whose followers took part in the attack on the Swedish Embassy. They brandished Korans, burned the Swedish flag and the LGBTQ rainbow flag and chanted, “Yes, yes to the Koran, no, no to Israel.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani had called on protesters and security forces to ensure that the demonstrations remained peaceful.

Read moreSwedish embassy in Iraq stormed

In the southern suburbs of Beirut, thousands more gathered at a protest called by the Iran-backed militia and political party Hezbollah, also brandishing copies of the holy book and chanting “with our blood, we protect the Koran.” Some burned Swedish flags.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a video address Thursday night called on Muslims to demand their governments expel Sweden’s ambassadors. Iraq cut diplomatic ties with Sweden earlier that day.

“I invite brothers and sisters in all neighbourhoods and villages to attend all mosques, carrying their Korans and sit in them, calling on the state to take a stance toward Sweden,” Nasrallah said in the address, according to Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency.

In Iran, thousands marched in Tehran and other cities across the country, demonstrations that were aired on state television. In the capital, protesters gathered in the city center, shouting: “Death to the Americanised Sweden! Death to Israel! Death to enemies of the supreme leader!”

Student protesters pelted the Swedish Embassy building that was closed for the weekend, which in Iran is Friday and Saturday, with eggs and demanded the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador.

“The Koran talks to humans all the time, and its voice will never be stopped,” protester Fatemeh Jafari said. “They can never destroy the Koran! Even if they burn it, we will stand by it!”

The demonstrations come after Swedish police permitted a protest Thursday in which an Iraqi of Christian origin living in Stockholm – now a self-described atheist – threatened to burn a copy of the Koran. In the end, the man kicked and stood on the holy book outside of the Iraqi Embassy. He gave similar treatment to an Iraqi flag and to photos of Sadr and of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The right to hold public demonstrations is protected by the constitution in Sweden, and blasphemy laws were abandoned in the 1970s. Police generally give permission based on whether they believe a public gathering can be held without major disruptions or safety risks. 

The reaction in Iraq was particularly virulent, although no embassy staff were injured since none were present. After protesters left the embassy, diplomats closed it to visitors without specifying when it would reopen. 

The state-run Iraqi News Agency reported that some 20 people were arrested in connection with the storming of the embassy. Among those arrested were an Associated Press photographer and two Reuters staff who were covering the protests. The detained journalists were released hours later without charges, following an order from the prime minister’s office.

Sudani, the Iraqi prime minister, ordered the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador and the withdrawal of the Iraqi charge d’affaires from Sweden.

Leaders in several Muslim-majority countries condemned the desecration of the Koran and summoned diplomats from Sweden to express their outrage. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian wrote a letter to the UN secretary-general in protest. On Friday, the minister told state television that he wouldn’t accept a new Swedish ambassador to replace the previous envoy, whose term has expired until Stockholm takes a “strong” stance against the man who desecrated the Koran.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called on the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to play a “historic role in expressing the sentiments of Muslims and stopping this demonisation.” 

Meanwhile, the Swedish Foreign Ministry conveyed to the Iraqi charge d’affaires that the storming of the embassy was “completely unacceptable,” according to the TT agency.

Thursday’s Koran desecration was the second to involve the Iraqi man in Sweden, identified as Salwan Momika. Last month, a man identified by local media and on his social media as Momika burned a Koran outside a Stockholm mosque during the major Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, triggering widespread condemnation in the Islamic world.

Read moreFrom militia leader to refugee: The backstory of the man who burned a Koran in Sweden

Koran burnings in the past have sparked protests across the Muslim world, some turning violent. In Afghanistan, the Taliban suspended all the activities of Swedish organisations in the country in response to the recent Koran burning.

A similar protest by a far-right activist was held outside Turkey’s Embassy in Stockholm earlier this year, complicating Sweden’s efforts to persuade Turkey to let it join NATO.

In June, protesters who support al-Sadr stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad over that Koran burning. 

Worshippers gathering for Friday prayers at the Stockholm mosque outside which last month’s Koran-burning took place expressed frustration that Swedish authorities allowed such actions. Imam Mahmoud Khalfi told the AP the situation made him feel “powerless.”

“You expect politicians and decisionmakers and police to show understanding … and try to find a solution. But it hasn’t happened, unfortunately,” he said.

He noted that other countries, such as neighbouring Finland, had found a way to combine freedom of speech with respect for religion. Unlike Sweden, Finland still has blasphemy laws.

“To let these extremists and criminals abuse the law and jeopardise peace in society and national security and Sweden’s reputation in the world, that is unsustainable,” he said. “We cannot understand why these lunatics are allowed to run wild.”

At the same time he added, “We are against all violent reactions and we have called on our members, to Muslims in Sweden, to react and act … in a peaceful way.”


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Explained | What made Turkey green-light Sweden joining NATO?

The story so far: A day ahead of a key summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) on Monday, July 10, checked off a major task from its agenda for this year. It finally reached a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to let Sweden into the military alliance. This came after a year of negotiations and global leaders lobbying Mr. Erdogan to drop his veto against Sweden, which he contended was harbouring “terrorist groups.”

Related: Explained | Why is Turkey against Sweden, Finland joining NATO?

What is the procedure to join NATO? 

There are some minimum requirements for a country to be eligible to join NATO, such as upholding democracy, tolerating diversity, respecting the sovereignty of other countries and so on. 

Once a country applies for NATO membership, they are signed on to a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a mechanism used by every new member that joined between 1999 and 2020. Sweden and Finland, the most recent applicants, however, did not use this procedure.

Once a country has met the requirements and expressed its intention to join NATO, it is invited to do so if all member countries agree. This marks the beginning of accession talks, which end with the signing of the Accession Protocol. 

All member countries— 31 at present— have to sign the Protocol and then get it ratified by their national legislatures, subsequently submitting the ratified instrument to the United States government, which is the depositary of the Treaty. 

Since all existing members have to undertake this process, the Turkish President’s disagreement over Sweden has effectively acted as a veto power. 

When did Sweden apply to join NATO?

In May 2022, two Nordic countries, Sweden and Finland, applied to join NATO, the organisation whose initial goal was to block the erstwhile Soviet Union’s expansion in Europe post the Second World War.

These countries have historically had a policy of military ‘non-alignment.’ While the two countries co-operated with NATO as closely as a non-member could, they did not apply for official membership until last year. In the past, they have held joint military drills with NATO, shared intelligence and have supported NATO’s military missions abroad. 

It was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine that largely triggered the countries’ bid to join NATO. The Russian military operation in Ukraine was seen by many as Russia violating the sovereignty of a weaker power in its neighbourhood. It also raised questions as to whether Russia would have started the war if Ukraine had been a NATO member. While Sweden and Finland did not have a border issue with Russia, neither did Ukraine until the Crimean annexation by Moscow in 2014. Sweden and Finland were now worried about a potential future border conflict. The war virtually changed the security dynamic in the region and prompted the two nations to apply for NATO membership, believing that it would act as a deterrent.

However, the membership bids of the countries hit a year-long impasse owing to the objections of one NATO member— Turkey. While Turkey agreed earlier this year to let Finland join the alliance, it held out on Sweden’s bid.

Why was Turkey against Sweden’s NATO membership?

Turkey has argued that Sweden and Finland have ties with “terrorist” groups — a reference to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The PKK, which seeks greater autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish minority, has waged an armed insurgency since the mid-1980s. The YPG is the armed wing of Syrian Kurdistan which controls parts of the Kurdish region in Syria. The PKK is also deemed a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

Meanwhile, Sweden has criticised Turkey for human rights abuses, especially in Kurdish regions, and questioned its democratic standards— which has not gone down with politicians in Ankara. 

Mr. Erdogan said Sweden, and Finland to a certain extent, maintained close ties with Kurdish militias, particularly the YPG. It also accused the countries of hosting supporters of the Fethullah Gulen movement, a religious sect led by the U.S.-based Gulen accused by Ankara of masterminding the failed 2016 coup against Mr. Erdogan. It also alleged that the two Nordic countries refused to extradite 33 people wanted by Ankara. 

Mr. Erdogan was also upset by an arms shipment embargo imposed by the two countries on Turkey from 2019 after its incursion into Syria against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. As a concession to get Turkey on board for their NATO bid, Sweden lifted the ban last year.

In June 2022, following negotiations, Turkey agreed to let Finland and Sweden join NATO provided they worked on counter-terrorism measures. In March this year, Turkey said it was satisfied with Finland’s efforts and ratified its Accession Protocol, but said that Sweden had not done enough.

Earlier this year, protests in Stockholm where the Quran was burned also added to Turkey’s disagreement. On a separate occasion, an effigy of Erdogan was hanged upside down, as per a Reuters report.

What softened Turkey’s stance on Sweden?

A look at some simultaneous developments and at the Joint Statement by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, Mr. Erdogan, and Swedish Prime Ulf Kristersson indicates that the reasons for Turkey’s change in stance are multi-fold. 

“Sweden has amended its constitution, changed its laws, significantly expanded its counter- terrorism cooperation against the PKK, and resumed arms exports to Türkiye, all steps set out in the Trilateral Memorandum agreed in 2022,” the joint release outlines. 

The two countries also agreed to create a new bilateral Security Compact that will meet annually at ministerial level. NATO reiterated that it condemns terrorism and decided to create the post of Special Coordinator for Counter-terrorism for the alliance.

While these are efforts toward Turkey’s original objection about Sweden harbouring “terrorist groups,” Ankara has managed to get a lot more in return for its green light to Sweden’s NATO bid.

Mr. Erdogan this week said he would clear the way for Sweden to join NATO, if Turkey was allowed to join the European Union. Turkey launched its bid to join the EU in 2005, but some of Mr. Erdogan’s internal politics led to an indefinite suspension of talks. In 2016, the European Parliament had voted to suspend talks after noting human rights violations, jailing of dissidents, and deterioration of the rule of law in Turkey, and how the President strengthened his grip on the country’s leadership.

While Mr. Erdogan’s proposal was brushed off by the EU and Washington, Sweden promised that it would support some of Turkey’s bids to join and some of its demands at the EU. These demands include the modernisation of the EU-Turkey Customs Union and visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens.

Analysts also point out another potentially significant development: U.S President Joe Biden announced hours after the NATO deal with Turkey that the White House would move forward with a deal to transfer F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. 

In 2019, Washington had dropped Turkey from a programme to develop and produce F-35 fighter jets after the latter purchased the S-400 defence system from Russia. America has also imposed sanctions on Turkey. Since then, Turkey has demanded that it be allowed to purchase F-16 jets and optimise the ones it already had.

What does Sweden’s membership mean for NATO?

Firstly, this membership aligns with NATO’s expansion plans. Second, it helps consolidate NATO’s security efforts and defence integration in the Nordic, Baltic region, and Arctic regions. All other Nordic countries are already members of the alliance.

It also brings NATO closer to Russia’s borders. Further, Sweden has a sophisticated army and defence technology, which could benefit NATO.

For Sweden, it means securing NATO protections that only formal membership brings. For instance, Article 5 of NATO says that any attack on a NATO member “shall be considered an attack against them all”.

What’s next?

The Turkish President has said he will get Sweden’s Accession Protocol ratified in Turkey’s Grand National Assembly as soon as possible. It is yet to be seen how long his administration will take to introduce the document in the legislature and convince hard line politicians who are against Sweden over the alleged Kurdish ties.

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From militia leader to refugee: The backstory of the man who burned a Koran in Sweden

Soon after a Chrisitan Iraqi man named Salwan Momika burned a Koran in front of Sweden’s largest mosque on June 28, 2023, it was reported that he was a member of a Swedish ultra-nationalist party. Then videos from Momika’s past in Iraq started to surface. This footage showed him wearing the uniform of an Iraqi militia with close links to Iran – a militia that has been accused of war crimes. Momika apparently burned the Koran just a few months after his application for citizenship was denied. 

A Christian man who immigrated from Iraq to Sweden stomped on a Koran then burnt it on June 28, 2023, in front of Stockholm’s largest mosque on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid. 

Momika had a friend film the whole scene. He also put slices of ham on the Koran  an act that the Swedish minister for foreign affairs has said amounts to “Islamophobia“. Momika actually applied for permission to carry out his action with the Swedish authorities. And while the police initially banned him, a judge awarded Momika the right to continue on June 23, based on Sweden’s principles of free speech. 

These are screengrabs of the video showing Salwan Momika smiling while burning several pages of the Koran, the sacred book to Muslims. He also says the phrase “Allah Akbar” several times, seemingly making fun of the phrase that means “God is great”. Momika posted the video on his TikTok account on June 29, 2023. Our team has chosen not to republish it. © France 24 Observers

Salwan Momika arrived in Sweden in April 2018. Three years later, in April 2021, he received refugee status, according to information sent to our team by the Swedish Migration Agency, the government body in charge of immigration. Momika has a three-year residency permit (set to expire in April 2024). He lives in the small community of Järna, south of the capital. 

Many Muslims reacted in anger to the incident. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened once again to block Sweden from being able to join NATO. 

Former militia member turned political refugee 

On Facebook, Momika describes himself as an “atheist and enlightened politician, thinker and author”. He is active on many social media sites, especially TikTok and Facebook. However, all of his accounts were created after he had refugee status in Sweden. 

Momika has posted dozens of videos online, often with majority-Muslim country names in Arabic as hashtags. This makes it seem likely that he was trying to stir up as much publicity as possible for his Koran burning. 


This is a screengrab of a video published by Momika the night before the fire saying that he had the okay from the Swedish authorities to burn the Koran. He told his followers that they should come see him in front of the grand mosque in Stockholm on the first day of Eid.
This is a screengrab of a video published by Momika the night before the fire saying that he had the okay from the Swedish authorities to burn the Koran. He told his followers that they should come see him in front of the grand mosque in Stockholm on the first day of Eid. © FRANCE 24 Observers

However, since the burning, old videos of Momika have resurfaced and been circulating online, especially amongst the Iraqi immigrant and refugee community in Sweden. Our team verified the videos, which show a group of men, all wearing black t-shirts, carrying the flag of the Imam Ali Brigades, an Iraqi militia with close ties to Iran. 

This is a screengrab of a video that has been circulating on social media since June 29, 2023 that shows Momika seemingly in charge of a group of Christians from Iraq working as part of the Brigades of Imam Ali, a militia with close ties to Iran.
This is a screengrab of a video that has been circulating on social media since June 29, 2023 that shows Momika seemingly in charge of a group of Christians from Iraq working as part of the Brigades of Imam Ali, a militia with close ties to Iran. © FRANCE 24 Observers

Inone video  which has been circulating online since June 29, the day after the Koran burning  Momika says that he is the head of a Christian militia within the Brigades of Imam Ali, an organisation created in 2014 and accused of war crimes.

The original video is unavailable online. However, our team was able to verify this excerpt by seeing two other videos from July 2015 and showing the same scene from a different angle. The first was posted on Facebook by the Faucons des forces syriaques (Falcons of the Syriac forces), a militia and the armed branch of the Syriac Democratic Union party, which was founded by Momika in 2014. The second is a video report from the Lebanese channel MTV, published on Youtube in July 2015.

Momika ran this armed group in the outskirts of Mosul in 2017. However, he was locked in a power struggle with Rayan al-Kaldani, the head of another Christian militia, this one called Babylon, then he ended up leaving Iraq, according to the Arabic-language news site Al Araby Al Jadeed. 

This is a screengrab of a propaganda video published in July 2015 by the YouTube channel “The Voice of the Syriac” with the same set up showing Salwan Momika wearing a uniform and holding a piece of paper in his hand, seemingly getting ready to give a speech.
This is a screengrab of a propaganda video published in July 2015 by the YouTube channel “The Voice of the Syriac” with the same set up showing Salwan Momika wearing a uniform and holding a piece of paper in his hand, seemingly getting ready to give a speech. FRANCE 24 Observers

The Imam Ali Brigades, whose leader has been under US sanctions since 2018, is one of the many groups operating under the umbrella organisation the Popular Mobilization Forces, a group of militias that have been integrated into the Iraq army since 2016 with the aim of fighting against the Islamic State group organisation. All of these militias get logistical and financial support from Iran. 

Videos have circulated online showing members of the Imam Ali Brigades committing atrocities on members of the Islamic State group organisation. 

This photo of Salwan Momika, taken before he arrived in Sweden in April 2018, shows him sitting in his office, holding a kalashnikov and sitting in front of the Aramean (Syriac) flag, which represents an ethnic minority group.
This photo of Salwan Momika, taken before he arrived in Sweden in April 2018, shows him sitting in his office, holding a kalashnikov and sitting in front of the Aramean (Syriac) flag, which represents an ethnic minority group. © FRANCE 24 Observers

When our team contacted the Swedish Migration Agency, they did not want to tell us why they had given Momika asylum. Our team also contacted the Swedish police, who said that they were not able to provide any information because Momika was currently under investigation for “inciting hate”.   

The website of the Swedish Migration Agency says that “persons who have committed certain criminal offences (such as war crimes or other serious crimes), or who pose a threat to the security of Sweden, cannot be granted a residence permit… nor can they be granted asylum under Swedish law”.

While there is no doubt that Momika was part of these militia groups, none of the videos or photos shared online offer proof that he took part in criminal activity.

In a video that began circulating on July 3, 2023, Momika says that his militia had ongoing tensions with other groups within the Popular Mobilization Forces. In the video, he claimed that he was a “victim of the worst acts of torture”, committed by these other groups.   

In an interview with the Swedish newspaper Expressen the day after his Koran burning Momika denied that he had ties to the Popular Mobilization Forces. We reached out to him, but he did not reply to our request for an interview. 

Citizenship application refused

Shortly after his arrival in Sweden, Momika forged links with the Swedish Democrats, a right-wing, ultra-nationalist group, according to an internal document at the Swedish embassy in Baghdad. Hoping to eventually apply for citizenship, Momika supposedly applied for permanent residency, a necessary step in the naturalisation process in Sweden. However, the authorities rejected his request. Authorities said that Momika had been sentenced to community service after having threatened to kill a man while holding a knife.  

Swedish authorities also consider the evolution of the security situation in someone’s home country when making a decision about whether or not to renew someone’s temporary residency permit (Momika’s is set to expire in April 2024).

In a video posted just hours after setting fire to the Koran, Momika criticised Swedish authorities for not providing him with adequate protection. 

This is a screengrab of a video that Momika livestreamed on Instagram after burning the Koran. In the video, he accused Swedish authorities of not providing him with the necessary protection, even though he had faced “international threat.” The video has since been deleted but saved extracts have been circulating on social media.
This is a screengrab of a video that Momika livestreamed on Instagram after burning the Koran. In the video, he accused Swedish authorities of not providing him with the necessary protection, even though he had faced “international threat.” The video has since been deleted but saved extracts have been circulating on social media. © FRANCE 24 Observers

More recent videos posted by Momika show him inside a hotel room. He denied that his actions constituted a hate crime, but said that he would participate in a tribunal.

He also announced his intent to repeat his actions, this time burning the Iraqi flag and the Koran in front of the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm next week.

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Europe’s new LGBQT+ retirement communities are planning for the future

Studies show that older members of the LGBTQ+ community are less likely to have children or families. Communities for senior LGBTQ+ people are cropping up across Europe to tackle loneliness.

For many older LGBTQ+ the prospect of moving into a retirement home is a worrying thought. But in Sweden, Spain and France new retirement communities for LGBTQ+ seniors are proving a hit.

“Care home staff don’t realise that they have LGBTQ+ residents – but based on population estimates we know they do. It’s just that residents don’t feel comfortable or safe being identified as LGBTQ+”, explains Professor Paul Willis, an expert in social care.

Older members of the LGBTQ+ community can “be at higher risk of loneliness, they are more likely to be single and live alone. They are also less likely to have children”, he tells Euronews.

However, new LGBTQ+ senior communities – which aim to tackle this isolation and social exclusion – are cropping up across Europe. 


In 2013, Regnbågen – which means rainbow in Swedish – became Europe’s first LGBT retirement community. A decade later, more than 30 thirty residents call it home.

Located in a leafy suburb of Stockholm, residents aged over 55-years-old occupy the upper three floors of an eight-storey retirement complex. 

Christer Fällman is the founder, he came up with the idea for the community when he attended Stockholm’s 2009 Pride. 

“I was at a debate hosted by older LGBT people – they were worrying about their futures and where they would live”, he told Euronews. Christer was only 51 at the time, but a realisation dawned on him. “I thought to myself, good point – where will I grow old?”

Christer rushed to action and began to submit funding applications to the Stockholm City Council. Four years on the first residents arrived – and to his surprise Christer was one of them. “I had not planned on moving in but then a room came free and I became the block’s youngest resident!”

Same-sex relations were legalised by Sweden in 1944 – and they became equal to heterosexual relationships in 1972. In 2009, Sweden would become the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.

Though five couples live in Regnbågen, most of the residents live alone.

72-year old Pia Faxén moved in last year, after her long-term partner, Monica, became terminally ill.

“We were living in an apartment in the city centre but it was too big for me to live in alone”, she told Euronews. “I wanted to be in a place with a sense of community, where people would take care of one another.”

Pia’s partner has since passed away, but she has managed to find comfort in her newfound “family.” 

“I don’t need to explain myself here. I wanted to live with other gay people because they have the same background, we understand each other.”

Residents have access to a rooftop terrace, as well as a hairdresser and health clinic. But Regnbågen has a waiting list of close to 300 people – for only 28 flats. Founder Christer Fällman believes there is still a long way to go. 

“I feel like the government and politicians think it is enough that we were the first in Europe to open this kind of LGBT living space. But we need more spaces like this across Sweden so that everyone can find their place.”


La Maison de la Diversité is a new residential block for LGBTQ+ seniors which plans to open in Lyon by the end of 2024.

François Daudin, 65, is a future resident, and excited to move in.  

François spent years searching for senior LGBTQ+ housing before finding the project. “Many of us don’t have children or family but also don’t want to live alone. There is a real lack of housing options for us.”

He currently lives in the outskirts of Lyon – in an area where he doesn’t feel safe enough to show any public affection to his boyfriend when they are out.

“We would never dare kiss, or hold hands, for fear of being attacked. For me, living in the community would also give me a sense of security.” France decriminalised homosexuality in 1982 – but same sex marriage was not legalised until 2013.

At Maison de la Diversité, each resident will have their own apartment – some of which will have a subsidised rent – as well as access to shared communal spaces. 

Like François, seven other prospective residents have already signed up for flats. They keep in touch via WhatsApp and are currently figuring out how they will manage the place. 

“All sorts of questions are arising – what happens if a resident falls sick? What types of people will be accepted into the residence? It is for the residents to decide and draft up the rules. But of course there will be a manager and volunteers on site to accompany them”, explains Stephane Sauvé. He is the man behind the project and also runs Les Audacieux & Audacieuses, an outreach charity for LGBTQ+ seniors.

Stephane spent many years managing care homes across France before dedicating himself to charity work. Stephane’s charity also delivers workshops in care homes to tackle stigmas around sexuality and homosexuality for the older population.

“One man was asked by a carer who the man in the framed picture on his bedside table was. He scrambled for words and then said it was his cousin. The next day he had hidden the picture in his wardrobe”, he told Euronews.

Though Stephane stresses the carer was well-meaning in this instance, he also points to other cases of explicit homophobia.

“There was a lesbian woman in one of the homes I ran. She was the only woman who was never asked to dance by the other women during the weekly tea dances. There was chatter about women being attracted to her if they asked her to dance.”

Despite this, Stephane remains positive and ambitious. 

“We aim to open ten of these LGBTQ+ senior living blocks in the next ten years across France! Watch this space!”


In Madrid, Spain’s first-ever council-funded LGBTQ+ retirement home will open by the end of 2024. 

It will include 62 rooms spread across four floors in a building spanning more 3000 square metres. 

Federico Armentero has spent the last 13 years campaigning to open the home. He named his charity Fundación 26 de Diciembre after the date in 1978 when Spain decriminalised Spain.

Federico explains that he came out to his family and friends in his mid-thirties. 

“My generation was born at a moment in history when homophobia was rife and internalised by much of the population. Many older LGBTQ+ people have lived on the fringes of society. They don’t feel they deserve a place where will be supported, cared for and welcomed.”

When he began speaking to the LGTBQ+ community about retirement prospects, Federico realised that many older people “were terrified at the thought of going back into the closet. I don’t want to be in a Catholic retirement home with paintings of the Virgin Mary – I want a place where there can be paintings of two women kissing on the walls!”

The project is a costly endeavour – and they have already spent €2.1 million euros on renovating the site of the future home. But the goal of providing affordable care for the LGBTQ+ community is central to Federico’s mission. 

“Many pensioners from the LGBTQ+ community are living on a pension of €400 per month. It is essential to provide decent housing for all people – even those with financial difficulties.”

Ten of the rooms on site will be reserved for palliative care. There will also be the possibility for residents to have euthanasia on site (which was legalised under specific conditions in 2021 in Spain).

For Federico, retirement homes should be viewed as a positive thing “we are going to hire almost 60 people at the home! The elderly are not the country’s ruin, on the contrary, we generate jobs, wealth!”

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