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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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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New US sanctions to plug loopholes that let Russia get Western tech

The US has announced a raft of new sanctions aimed at people and companies in countries, notably NATO member Turkey, that sell Western technology to Russia that could be used to bolster its war effort.

The US is slapping sanctions on more than 150 businesses and people from Russia to Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Georgia to try to crack down on evasion and deny the Kremlin access to technology, money and financial channels that fuel President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.


The sanctions package is one of the biggest by the State and Treasury departments and is the latest to target people and companies in countries, notably NATO member Turkey, that sell Western technology to Russia that could be used to bolster its war effort.

The package also aims to hobble the development of Russia’s energy sector and future sources of cash, including Arctic natural gas projects, as well as mining and factories producing and repairing Russian weapons.

“The purpose of the action is to restrict Russia’s defense production capacity and to reduce the liquidity it has to pay for its war,” James O’Brien, head of the State Department’s Office of Sanctions Coordination, told the AP.

From Russia to Turkey to the UAE

The US is imposing sanctions on a newly established UAE company, which provides engineering and technology to Russia’s Arctic liquefied natural gas project, as well as multiple Russian companies involved in its development.

Putin wants the Arctic LNG 2 project to produce more liquefied natural gas and make Russia a bigger player in the energy market. In July, Putin visited the LNG site in Russia’s far north and said it would have a positive impact on “the entire economy.”

The US package includes sanctions on several Turkish and Russian companies that the State Department says help Moscow source US and European electronic components –such as computer chips and processors — that can be used in civilian and military equipment.

The department also is targeting Turkish companies that have provided ship repair services to a company affiliated with Russia’s Ministry of Defence.

Before the war, O’Brien said, Russia imported up to 90% of its electronics from countries that are part of the G7 wealthy democracies, but sanctions have dropped that figure closer to 30%.

Sanctions, he said, “are effective” and “put a ceiling on Russia’s wartime production capacity.”

“Russia is trying to run a full production wartime economy, and it is extremely difficult to do that with secretive episodic purchases of small batches of equipment from different places around the world,” O’Brien said.

However, analysts say Russia still has significant financial reserves available to pursue its war and it’s possible for Russia to import the technology it seeks in tiny batches to maintain defense production.


“Russia could probably fill a large suitcase with enough electronic components to last for cruise missile production for a year,” said Richard Connolly, a specialist on Russia’s defense sector and economy at the risk analysis firm Oxford Analytica.

Russia, he said, also gets a lot of electronic components from Belarus, “so even if we whack all the moles, Belarus will still provide the equipment for as long as Lukashenko is in power.”

Both Turkey and the UAE have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but have not joined Western sanctions and sought to maintain ties with Russia.

Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov said this year that trade between Russia and the UAE grew by 68% to $9 billion in 2022, according to Russian state news agency Tass.

Are sanctions effective?

Despite countries still doing business with Russia, the State Department believes sanctions are working, O’Brien said, noting that “the way to measure success is on the battlefield.”


“Ukraine can shoot down most of what the Russians are firing, and that tells us that there’s a gap,” he said. “The battlefield debris shows us Russia is using less capable electronics or sometimes no electronics at all.”

Nonetheless, Russia has been pummeling Ukraine with frequent missile attacks, including two over the past week that killed at least 23 people in Ukraine.

This is partly because Russia is “still getting hold of these electronic components and they are largely functioning as they did before,” said Connolly, the Russia analyst.

The latest sanctions package targets multiple Russian companies that repair, develop and manufacture weapons, including the Kalibr cruise missile. But to really turn the screws on Russia, analysts say Western companies need to think twice before selling crucial technology to countries known to have a healthy resale market with Russia.

“We need to work much harder with companies in our own countries to ensure that they are not feeding the re-export market,” said Tom Keatinge, director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London.


“Many of them may be celebrating a rise in sales to the UAE or Turkey and not realising, or not choosing to realise, that the rise is being driven by re-export business as opposed to genuine business happening in the UAE and Turkey,” he said.

The United Arab Emirates has insisted it follows international laws when it comes to money laundering and sanctions. However, a global body focused on fighting money laundering has placed the UAE on its “grey list” over concerns that the global trade hub isn’t doing enough to stop criminals and militants from hiding wealth there.

Turkey, meanwhile, has tried to balance its close ties with both Russia and Ukraine, positioning itself as a mediator.

Turkey depends heavily on Russian energy and tourism. Last year, however, Turkey’s state banks suspended transactions through Russia’s payment system, Mir, over US threats of sanctions.

The extent of US sanctions

Including the latest sanctions, the State Department says the US has targeted almost 3,000 businesses and people since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

“The United States and its allies and partners are united in supporting Ukraine in the face of Russia’s unprovoked, unjustified and illegal war. We will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement.

The State Department also sanctioned a Russian citizen for being associated with the Wagner mercenary group and for facilitating shipping of weapons from North Korea to Russia.

Also targeted were a Russian oligarch who the State Department says has personal ties to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and organised crime, as well as a Russian Intelligence Services officer and a Georgian-Russian oligarch. The State Department has said Russia’s Federal Security Service worked with the oligarch to influence Georgian society and politics for Russia’s benefit.

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Turkey’s political rivalries play out in unexpected places

With overseas voting taking place for the first time this year in the three Baltic States, Turkey’s political tensions are playing out along starkly familiar lines.

“In an ideal world, we would be able to trust the Turkish government,” said Onur Can Varoğlu. “But we need to make sure the votes being counted in Lithuania end up in Ankara.”

“Anything can happen if we don’t watch.”

The 27-year-old is part of a team of independent volunteers monitoring the vote of Turkish nationals in Lithuania, ahead of Turkey’s nationwide elections on 14 May.

He has volunteered in nearly eight elections, but these in the small Baltic state are special as it is the first time ballots have been set up here. Before, they had to travel to the Turkish border to cast their vote.

Arrested during the Gezi Park protests of 2013, Varoğlu said it was vital to protect the integrity of Turkey’s election, believing democratic freedoms had been eroded back home.

“We are pretty protective of our vote,” he told Euronews. “In Turkey, it is very difficult to protest and we saw how the Middle East went down after the Arab Spring movements.”

“We don’t have hope for a big social movement. Our only chance for change is at the ballot box.”

Turks have been given the opportunity to vote in Lithuania for the first time as their number has risen significantly in recent years, with nearly 2,000 now in the country.

But with the arrival of more Turkish people to the Baltic nation, came the arrival of their political rivalries too.

In Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, there are reportedly dedicated mosques and cultural centres for supporters of Erdoğan and those of the various opposition forces, such as Kurds and Gülenists, a political group once allied with the Turkish president. 

“These political tensions actually play out more abroad because people are freer to express their opinions and do activism,” says Varoğlu. “In Turkey, if you say or do anything too political you can end up in prison.”

Erdoğan has increasingly clamped down on dissent, bringing in controversial laws that criminalise “insulting the president” and “disinformation” on social media. 

These political rivalries could be traced back to the family, Varoğlu continued. “It doesn’t matter if you come to Europe. If you are from a nationalist, Islamist background or a more pro-European immigrant one, you bring these values with you.”

“Turkish politics is like football, you are born with your team and will support it no matter what.”

Why are Turkish people in Lithuania?

Over the past decade, Turkey’s economy has hit the rocks, with millions of Turks pushed to the brink by skyrocketing inflation and a collapsing currency.

In September 2021, one US dollar was worth 8 Turkish lira. Today it is 19.5.

These economic headwinds have profoundly impacted which Turks emigrate and where they go.

“The only people who stay in Turkey are those benefiting from the regime. If you are willing to sign up for their agenda and support the party, you will have a bright future. If you don’t want to sacrifice your values to get a good job, then you must leave,” said Varoğlu.

“It’s a given that this is the only way to have a bright future.”

Turkish immigrants in Lithuania tend to be younger, university educated and more supportive of the opposition, compared to the more established Turkish communities in other parts of mainland Europe. However, many still do back Erdoğan.

“Most Turks in hotspots Germany went as guest workers after World War Two. There was no plan to integrate them, so they built their own communities and are stuck in a Turkish fantasy,” said Varoğlu, suggesting this was one reason why diaspora there tended to support Erdoğan.

“But newer generations of immigrants in places like Lithuania are not like that. They’re more open and European.”

In the 2018 elections, 87% (2.63 million) of the Turkish voters registered abroad were residents of 19 EU Member States, the UK, Norway or Switzerland. Almost half of all expat voters in 2018 (47%) were living in Germany, which strongly supported Erdoğan in the last presidential election

One of these younger Turks who will play a pivotal role in the election is Merve Yılmaz.

The 20-something, who cast her vote at the Turkish embassy on Sunday, is studying a master’s at one of Lithuania’s most prestigious universities.

For Yılmaz, the vote couldn’t be more important. Not only was it her first time voting, she has also only ever known Erdoğan, and his AKP party, ruling over Turkey since 2001.

And she is not alone. Five million young people will vote in Turkish elections for the first time this time around, with their support seen as crucial for deciding who will win.

With his stripped-down social media videos, Erdoğan’s rival and leader of an opposition bloc, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, has attracted many young voters eager for change. But Erdoğan retains strong support, especially among conservative religious voters.

“To me, it is very clear who should be the next leader,” said Yılmaz. “He [Kılıçdaroğlu] is the only person who we can trust to help lift our country from the horrible situation it is in now.”

“We want change for a better future.”

‘Dictators don’t retire’

Erdoğan is facing the biggest threat to his two-decade rule yet. 

His support has taken a battering, with critics accusing him of steering the country towards authoritarianism, ruining the economy and mishandling the response to a devastating earthquake in February that killed more than 50,000 people.

In his defence, the 69-year-old has called the earthquake an act of god, maintaining it is impossible to prepare for such a catastrophic natural disaster on this scale.

Polls predict a neck-and-neck race between Erdoğan and his opponent, with the upcoming vote pitched as a seismic battle over Turkey’s destiny.

There have been widespread fears Erdoğan could not play fairly, while his supporters have threatened to reject the vote if he loses.

“We have a lot of insecurity towards elections being rigged,” said Varoğlu. “We had some bad experiences in the past, but we weren’t as well organised back then.”

After a 2017 referendum on whether to overhaul Turkey’s democracy and establish an executive presidency for Erdoğan – which he won – the opposition cried foul after rules were changed at the last minute to allow 2.5 million unstamped ballots to be included in the vote.

However, Varoğlu was more sure about what was at stake.

“Each candidate is promising two very different futures for Turkey. One of them is promising more restrictions on human rights, more wild nationalism and capitalism. The other is promising improved human rights and a return to European norms.”

“It’s Turkey, anything can happen.”

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Everything you need to know about Turkish elections

Turkey will be holding what is considered to be the most consequential elections in recent history on 14 May.

From a stuttering economy to migration policies, the issues at stake have been exacerbated by the recent earthquake while killed 50,000 people and devastated towns and cities acrous the south and southwest of the country. 

Voters will decide whether to keep the current government — which has ruled the country for more than two decades — or opt instead for a change of leadership in Ankara. 

Here’s everything you need to know about Turkish politics, parties, personalities and the issues at stake as the country gets ready to go to the polls: 

The election timetable

There will be two elections held on 14 May where voters will choose their new president, and also 600 members of parliament.

For the presidential elections, if no candidate can secure at least 50% of the votes, a second run-off will be held on 28 May between the top two runners.

Around 61 million voters will head to the polls on election day and it is estimated that 3 million voters abroad will likely cast their votes in advance, between 27 April and 9 May. 

The voting on 14 May will begin at 08:00, and the polls will close at 17:00 local time. 

All politicians and parties will have to conclude their campaigns at 18:00 the day before, then the pre-election restrictions begin.

The initial results are expected to be known by 23:59 on election day. At midnight the electoral prohibitions end, and the broadcasters will begin to announce unofficial initial results. 

Traditionally, the winner of the race for the presidency will declare victory in the early hours of the morning, when the majority of the ballots have been counted. 

The president-elect will address the public with a victory speech. However, the announcement of the definite results by the Supreme Election Council can take a few days or even a week.

The presidency and parliamentary elections are run on the same day every five years.

Who is running for the presidency?

On 14 May, the voter will be handed a ballot paper with four candidates, who all succeeded in securing the 100,000 signatures required for candidacy.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the current president will be facing his toughest test during his 20-year rule. Founder and the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Erdoğan has been leading the country since he became prime minister in 2002. 

Appointed as president by parliament in 2014, his powers were only symbolic in theory, although critics would argue that he already established a de-facto presidential system since coming into office.

The referendum in 2017 paved the way for the presidential system and in 2018, all the powers of the government were handed over to the elected president, Erdoğan, as the parliamentary government was abolished. 

The 69-year-old president is criticised for monopolising all powers and silencing dissenting voices as well as shifting Turkey away from Ataturk’s secular blueprint. 

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who has been the country’s main opposition leader for 13 years, is widely believed to have a high chance of winning the race for the first time. 

The leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kılıçdaroğlu is the candidate of the Nation Alliance, also known as the ‘Table of Six’.

Following a series of major defeats against Erdoğan and AKP, the retaking of power in stronghold municipalities at the local elections in 2019 by CHP was the first signal of Erdoğan’s loss of support. 

The country’s worsening economic situation appears to be strengthening Kılıçdaroğlu’s hand.

Some call the 74-year-old retired civil servant a Turkish ‘Ghandi’, others criticise him for lacking political charisma and for obstructing politicians from his own party who are seen as having a high chance of winning the election.

Muharrem Ince, the leader of the Homeland Party, knows the presidential race all too well. He will be running against Erdoğan for the second time following the last presidential elections in 2018. 

İnce was a member of the CHP and the candidate of the main opposition at the time. However, his disappearance on the election night was perceived as a betrayal and his ‘off the record’ Whatsapp message, “the man won”, accepting the defeat was the last straw that broke the camel’s back for his supporters. 

He formed Homeland Party (MP) following his resignation from CHP in 2021.

Despite calls for withdrawal from the opposition wing, İnce is confident that he will make it to the second round. The 58-year-old candidate is criticised for splitting the votes and playing into Erdoğan’s hands. 

Sinan Oğan, nominated by the Ancestral Alliance, was a member of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

He was dismissed from the party in 2017 for the second time, following his return after winning the lawsuit against his expulsion in 2015. 

Now an independent politician, the 55-year-old is less well-known among the public than the other candidates. Oğan served as a member of parliament between 2011 and 2015.


Perhaps the most complicated part of the race is the parliamentary elections. The voters will have a long ballot paper with a list of 32 political parties. 

Turkey is divided into 87 multi-member constituencies which elect a certain number of representatives depending on the size of the population of each constituency. 

In total 600 MPs are elected. 

The complication doesn’t end here. 

Some cities are traditionally strongholds of a particular party regardless of who the candidates are. So, to increase the chance of winning a seat, some parties include candidates from other parties in their electoral lists. 

For a party to be represented in parliament, it must exceed the threshold of 7%.

Any party unable to obtain enough votes can still join the parliament if it is a member of an alliance that reaches the 7% threshold.


People’s Alliance is currently formed of four parties: the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Great Unity Party (BBP) and New Welfare Party (YRP).

The main opposition bloc’s Nation Alliance, on the other hand, is made up of six parties: Republican People’s Party (CHP), Good Party (İYİ), Felicity Party (SP), Future Party (GP), Democrat Party (DP) and Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA).

Labour and Freedom Alliance is in theory formed of two parties Green Left Party (YSP) and Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP). However, the party list of YSP consists of candidates from four different parties. 

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) which came third in the last elections and currently facing a possible closure, will be participating under Green Left Party (YSP). 

Union of Socialist Forces brings together Left Party (SOL), Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) and the Communist Movement of Turkey (TKH).

 Victory Party (ZP) and Justice Party (AP) runs in the election under the Ancestral Alliance.

Once all the votes have been counted, the D’Hondt method will be used to determine the new MPs. The method aims to allocate seats to parties approximately in proportion to the number of votes received.

The votes cast abroad will be added proportionally to the votes received by the parties across the country.

What are they promising?

Unless there will be a big surprise, it is almost certain that it is either Erdoğan or Kiılıçdaroğlu who will reside at the presidential palace for the next term. And if the pattern continues from previous elections, the majority of the seats will be occupied by the three alliances: the Nation, People’s, and Labour and Freedom Alliance.

Erdoğan has been basing its campaign on the “Century of Turkey” vision and is expected to introduce his 23-point manifesto on 11 April. 

He will be showcasing the projects AKP has realised for the last 20 years and new plans for the reconstruction of the disaster zone are expected to come to the fore. 

At an event last October, the current leader already mentioned that his main goal is to change the constitution, saying amendments made so far weren’t enough.

The controversial topic of his speech was about the institution of the family. “While the unity between woman and man based on legitimacy is scorned; perversion, immorality, and crooked relationships are being encouraged intentionally,” he said. 

On the other hand, the main opposition (Nation Alliance) is pledging to reverse many of Erdoğan’s signature policies and has listed its election vows under nine main headings: highlighting justice, anti-corruption, and education as some of the top priorities. 

The opposition wants to dismantle Erdoğan’s executive presidency in favour of the previous parliamentary system. 

The most striking of its promises are about economic and migration policies. 

The alliance is promising to reduce inflation to single figures in two years and increase the national income per capita fivefold. 

They also have been pledging to send two million Syrians back to their country within two years, on a voluntary basis.

Sharing live videos from his modest kitchen, Kılıçdaroğlu promises to fight corruption and vows to enhance freedom. 

If they take power, Turkey will rejoin the Istanbul Convention he says, which aims to prevent gender-based violence, protect victims of violence, and punish perpetrators, 

Also, the plans for Istanbul Canal will be abandoned, the Presidential Palace in Ankara will be opened to the public and the new address of the president will be the old palace, Çankaya Mansion.

What polls are indicating?

Election surveys pointing to a neck-and-neck race, unsurprisingly between Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu, and suggesting a possible power change after more than two decades. However, many are skeptical of the polls and believe Erdoğan’s grassroots will not betray him.

Based on the latest reports by 4 out of 5 research companies, Kılıçdaroğlu is ahead of Erdoğan by single figures. However, the numbers also suggest a second run-off.

According to the latest opinion polls conducted by 11 different companies, AKP is leading the race with over 32% of the votes, followed by the CHP projected to win around 27.6%. HDP, who will be running under Green Left Party, is in third place with around 10.7%.

The ruling AKP is losing ground against the opposition.

Looking at the overall votes of the two opposing blocs, the Nation Alliance is leading the polls with 42.2% while Erdoğan’s People’s Alliance is set to gain 40.6% of the votes.

What is at stake?

Without a doubt, high inflation and economic crisis top the election debates in the country. According to Turkish Statistical Institute (TUİK) the annual inflation was recorded at 64.27% in 2022. However independent Inflation Research Group (ENAG), claims the number was more than double, at the rate of 137.55%.

The rocketing cost of living, particularly in the housing sector, and unemployment rates are the most important issues on the voter’s agenda.

The government’s response and the handling of the devastating earthquakes in February will be reflected at the ballot box. 

Given that Turkey is the country with the highest number of refugees in the world, it is not surprising that voters consider migration to be another important issue. Some surveys show anti-migrant sentiment has increased as well as the number of migrants.

Erdoğan’s critics say his government has muzzled dissent, eroded rights, and brought the judicial system under its sway, a charge denied by officials who say it has protected citizens in the face of unique security threats including a 2016 coup attempt. Dismissing thousands of civil servants and academics from public institutions and a crackdown on media was regarded as a policy of silencing and intimidation.

Hence civil liberties are never off the agenda.

Last but not least, the upheaval caused by the devastating earthquakes in the southeast has heightened concerns about potential irregularities during the elections.

… and on election day

Selling or consuming alcohol in public places will be forbidden. All recreation centers will have to stay shut during the hours of voting. Venues that offer restaurant and entertainment facilities can only serve food to the customers. No one, except law enforcement officers, can carry arms.

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What will happen to Turkey’s EU migrant deal if the opposition wins?

Turkey is counting down to elections on 14 May, with the economy the single most important issue for voters. 

But the migrant crisis is also seen as critical — not just for the public, but for the political parties vying for power. 

The last decade has witnessed a wave of arrivals with people fleeing the war in Syria. Many passed through Turkey and went on to Europe, but millions remained in the first point of safety. 

Some surveys show that as the number of foreigners has increased, so has anti-migrant sentiment. 

That has meant immigration issues are a hot election subject, which could have implications for the EU as well.

The opposition ‘National Alliance bloc is hoping to gain votes by pledging to send two million Syrians back to their homeland within two years. According to official figures, Turkey hosts 3,447,837 Syrian refugees registered under temporary protection as of March 2023.

Meanwhile, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, facing harsh criticism for his migration policy from his own supporters, has tried to keep one foot in each camp. 

Last year, he reiterated that his government was working on a return scheme to send one million Syrians back to their homeland on a voluntary basis. A few days later he also said “we will never expel them from this land. Our door is wide open. We’ll continue to host them and not throw them into the lap of murderers.”

Five months before the election, Erdogan announced more than half a million Syrians returned to northern Syria and he added “voluntary return of Syrians back to their homes is accelerating”. 

An alternative to the EU-Turkey deal

Migrants have become a bargaining tool between Ankara and the European Union too. 

In 2016, both parties reached a deal on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation, better known as the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal. It aimed to stop the influx of refugees and migrants into the EU by sending anyone trying to enter Greece irregularly back to Turkey. 

In return, the EU promised to fund €6 billion to help Turkey accommodate Syrians, as well as offer visa liberalisation for Turkish nationals. The deal meant that for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greece, another Syrian will be resettled in the EU.

For Professor Dr Kemal Kirişci, a nonresident senior fellow and director of the Turkey Project at the Brookings Institution, the deal was “utterly successful” for Brussels, though the possibility of a similar agreement is highly unlikely. 

Statistics from Turkish authorities show that about 37,000 Syrians have been relocated to Western countries under the one-for-one principle.

According to Kirişci, integrating them into reconstruction plans of the disaster zone following February’s devastating earthquake, is much more feasible and realistic than any other solution.

He points out there is already a United Nations plan on the table which focuses on “the EU and other Western partners extending trade concessions to Turkey, enabling private businesses to expand their exports and in return create formal and sustainable employment for both Syrian refugees and locals.” 

In his article about the proposal, Kirişci writes: “It would reduce Syrian refugees’ dependence on humanitarian assistance, help alleviate public resentment, and diminish the prospects of secondary movements”.

Speaking to Euronews, he added the EU would be much more receptive to this idea and there is great support for the proposal from concerned organisations.

“Until last year, Syrian refugees were increasingly feeling integrated into Turkish society, but the situation has changed due to the public resentment that surfaced during the course of the last year. With that resentment, you begin to see refugees doubting their presence and acceptance in Turkey. Their consideration to turn towards a third destination is increasing too”, Kirişci continues.

A 2021 report suggests that most Syrians, who five years ago wanted to stay in Turkey, now want to relocate to another country. 

In 2017 only around 32% of Syrians wanted to settle in a third country, by 2021 this number had risen to 64%. 

Kirişci also points out that migrants are unlikely to be a top priority for the new government after the elections because whoever will be in power, will face more pressing issues such as the economy.

‘Immigration [is] a key element in EU-Turkey relations’

Dr Sibel Karadag from Kadir Has University, an expert on migration and borders, says the policy of return is already in place internationally.

“Deportation and returns have been a hot topic for a long time. Western countries are deporting migrants to their neighbouring countries and the neighbours sending them to the countries of origin.”

“On the way to elections, Turkey increases the level of returns and deportations as we previously witnessed during the 2019 municipality elections. Since January 2022, another episode is at stake which is officially called as the policy of dilution and sweeping. 

“Under this policy, Syrians are sent back to the areas under Turkish control in northern Syria under the name of voluntary returns and other irregular migrants are deported through charter flights”, she explains. 

Karadag believes regardless of the election result, this practice will continue.

In its election campaign, the opposition bloc has outlined four step solution to the migrant crisis in Turkey. 

“First of all, we will make peace with all our neighbours” they say as their number one priority: “We will sit down with the Syrian government to discuss and find a peaceful solution”. 

On the other hand, the current government is yet to announce its election manifesto. However, Erdogan’s desire to negotiate with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and his efforts on a scheme to relocate at least one million Syrian to northern Syria are seen as a part of his election campaign.

For both experts, shaking hands with the Syrian president is not a possibility on the horizon while Turkey maintains its military presence in northern Syria, at least not in the very near future.

According to Karadag, migration and border governance became key elements in EU-Turkey relations. 

“The EU has aimed to externalise this issue to Turkey as part of its wider global approach to control migration, and Turkey has used its ‘guardian’ role by turning it into multi bargaining tool”, she argues.

She adds: “At times, the government aimed to bargain with the threat of opening of borders which finally became materialised during the Pazarkule events in 2020. At other times it sought additional financial support or tacit political tolerance for the regime”.

In late 2019, Erdogan threatened to open European borders to let migrants leave the country unless more international support was provided, plus as a response to criticisms of Turkish military intervention in northern Syria. 

Following his announcement, thousands of migrants and refugees, mainly from Somalia and Afghanistan, flocked to Turkey’s Pazarkule border crossing with Greece. 

Clashes broke out as desperate groups faced fierce resistance from Greek police.

For Karadag, in the event of implementing the plans of mass returns, we may see similar scenes again, as she argues the Turkey-Greece border is much deadlier than in 2015 with proven pushbacks from Greek security forces.

“The European Union will continue to support any kind of extra-legal action to stop migrants reaching its doorstep,” she says.

“The first task should be to build a critical and strong diplomacy with rights-based principles against EU’s migration and border policies,” adds Karadag.

“The new government should carry out a policy that puts human dignity at the forefront.”

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Don’t be fooled by the polls. Erdogan won’t go down without a fight

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

It has been a long time since the citizens of Turkey awaited the high-stakes parliamentary and presidential elections with such bated breath.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been ruling the country for 21 years, is set to face a united opposition candidate on 14 May, and this time, his chances look slim due to never-ending political and economic crises that were only deepened by the tremors costing more than 10% of the country’s 2023 national GDP.

The devastating twin earthquakes in early February that killed more than 50 thousand people and left millions homeless have only furthered a major decline in his popularity, with Erdogan expected to pay the price of what has been deemed a largely inadequate emergency response.

Right now, polls suggest that Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and the joint presidential candidate of the Nation Alliance, leads the presidential race with at least 10 points ahead of Erdogan.

Kilicdaroglu is also expected to get support from smaller parties as well as Turkey’s third-largest bloc, Labour and Freedom Alliance, led by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, HDP.

Regardless of the dark clouds gathering fast, Erdogan and his People’s Alliance seem unphased and certain of yet another victory. Many wonder how come — but the answer can be gleaned from his past record.

In Erdogan’s eyes, the state is himself

For Erdogan, a victory would represent a go-ahead to cement his autocratic rule once and for all. A win would provide him with a way to rule Turkey for good, moving the country further away from the West and the EU and destroying every form of opposition against him.

For the opposition, the 14 May elections are seen as the last chance to preserve Turkish democracy and prevent the country from sliding further towards autocratic rule.

During his more than two decades in power, Erdogan established near-absolute control over state institutions, especially after an executive presidency was introduced in 2018, giving supreme powers to his office.

Since then, people with links to Erdogan and his party have been systematically placed in positions of power in the judiciary, police, army, and other state institutions.

Moreover, while other parties have only donations to rely on in addition to humble financial support from the country’s treasury, Erdogan and his party control all of the state’s financial means.

The Turkish Presidency’s Communications Directorate alone has spent nearly 233 million liras (approx €11.3 million) in the first two months of 2023 — a 274% increase to the same period in 2022.

In fact, the Communications Directorate — although technically a state institution — proved to be the Turkish president’s tool for propaganda and a pressure mechanism on what is left of Turkish media.

As the vote nears, the state budget will increasingly serve for Erdogan’s elections games in addition to providing him with a major platform for media appearances, as more than 90% of the Turkish media scene is owned or controlled by the government.

The remaining independent media outlets have started to feel the pressure after being hit with heavy fines.

Since the earthquake disaster and with the approaching elections, Turkish TV stations have been heavily sanctioned and fined for their critical coverage ahead of the vote by the Radio and Television Supreme Council, RTUK, the state agency that monitors — and sanctions — radio and television broadcasts.

Social media warfare and disdain of Twitter

But the media campaign will not end there. The Turkish government has already established a control mechanism on social media with draconian laws and regulations.

The government also banned Twitter during the earthquake disaster, saying that it was to blame for the increase of disinformation following the public anger against the government’s ineffective and slow disaster response.

Experts, politicians, and commentators criticised the ban, saying that Twitter was the main source of communication for many people searching for survivors and victims, as well as for local and nationwide aid campaigns.

Erdogan’s government has toyed with limiting or outright blocking access to social media in Turkey ever since activists widely used platforms like Twitter to organise and communicate during the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul.

The protests posed a huge challenge to his authority at the time that ended with a brutal police crackdown causing several deaths among the demonstrators, causing Erdogan to label Twitter as “trouble”, accusing it of spreading “unmitigated lies“.

He followed up by openly criticising Twitter, calling it “Twitter, mwitter!” and threatening to “eradicate” it in front of his supporters in the run-up to the municipal elections in 2014. 

Officials then banned it just days before the vote on the grounds of allegedly allowing posts “insulting Turkish citizens” to remain on the platform and a law allowing the Telecommunications Board to block any website or social media network for anything it believes to be “privacy violations”.

Now, it is not certain that the government would not attempt to impose a similar ban before, during or after elections using “disinformation” as an excuse.

This time, internal subversion is not out of the question

In the meantime, more and more reports suggest that Erdogan and his party are trying to subvert the platform from within.

In the last few months, there has been a significant increase in Twitter accounts posing as news outlets without specifying members of their editorial board, journalists, or even linking to a website.

These accounts, which have hundreds of thousands of followers, are allegedly controlled by the troll armies of AKP.

More interestingly, several influential commentators, analysts and academics revealed that dozens of fake accounts using their names have been created in the last weeks.

They claim that these accounts — again, controlled by the government trolls — aim to manipulate Twitter discussions on politics and upcoming elections.

Bots and fake accounts are also reportedly advocating for other politicians, such as Muharrem Ince, a former CHP official and 2018 presidential candidate, who is expected to take some of the votes that would otherwise most likely go to Kilicdaroglu.

Fears of election fraud spike

Increased fears of possible election fraud are not baseless hysteria. It would be naïve to believe there would be no attempts at it considering a record of malversations and questionable calls by authorities in Erdogan’s times.

Most recently, in 2017, the Turkish Supreme Election Council, or YSK, reportedly accepted up to 2.5 million unsealed ballots — which could have been easily manipulated — in a referendum that allowed Erdogan to undermine the country’s parliamentary system and push through the aforementioned executive presidency.

The YSK decision was supported by the AKP. The opposition, rights groups and international organisations condemned it.

In 2019, Erdogan made the unthinkable after he lost Turkey’s important cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya and Adana, to the opposition in local elections.

YSK, fearing Erdogan, annulled Istanbul’s mayoral vote due to alleged irregularities. However, district and city council elections — in which Erdogan’s party held the majority — were not annulled even though people voted at the same time with the same ballot boxes.

In the second round, Erdogan’s candidate still experienced a humiliating defeat against Istanbul’s popular mayor Ekrem Imamoglu.

What will happen to the votes from the earthquake-affected areas?

This time, one major issue stems from the fact that it is not clear how people will cast their votes in the areas affected by the earthquakes, as there are almost no standing buildings in some towns and cities. 

Some 2 million people have been forced to migrate to safer areas, but only 345,000 people have self-registered in other cities for elections since.

In the earthquake-struck eastern Turkey, Erdogan allied with the Kurdish nationalist and Islamist Free Cause Party, HÜDA PAR, citing election safety in affected areas would benefit from the alliance.

HÜDA PAR is known to have ties to Hezbollah’s Turkish branch, held responsible for the assassination of hundreds of people, including intellectuals, journalists and academics, in the 1990s. It is also a designated Islamist militant terror group by the US and many Western countries.

Fears now abound that Erdogan might use HÜDA PAR to use the chaos to his advantage through illicit means, be it ballot theft or intimidation of voters.

Moreover, Russia — which has been accused of malicious influence on several elections across the world,  including the 2016 US presidential election — clearly supports Erdogan as his government remains the only bridge for Russian trade following the West’s sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

Last but not least, Erdogan passed a new election law last year that openly favours his party and allies. 

In addition to the detailed mathematical calculation on how AKP could get more seats in the parliament with fewer votes as a result of the changes, the election boards’ structure was tinkered with as well.

Under the previous law, the most senior judge acted as the head of the district election board, but the new draft law suggests that first-category judges can now lead the election boards, meaning it’s the professional category and not seniority that determines who gets to serve.

Following the failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016, thousands of judicial officials were dismissed from their posts as part of the government’s crackdown on opponents, and the ruling coalition was accused of favouring their allies while appointing new judges and prosecutors.

Most of these new judges will be presiding over the district election boards, which could then repay the favour to those who appointed them, ignore any attempted fraud, or even participate in it themselves.

Opposition must be ready to play ball

Erdogan proved himself as a political strategist, winning under unexpected circumstances on several occasions.

This time, however, the united and growingly optimistic opposition is bound to be the first real test — and it might prove to be a test for both.

Kilicdaroglu united most of the opposition parties behind him, but he is known for his election defeats against Erdogan.

While he won one local election victory in 2019, Kilicdaroglu lost four general elections, two referendums, and two local elections against Erdogan, bringing the total between the two over the years to 8-1 in favour of Erdogan.

And despite the big lead in the polls, pre-election polling has also misguided both politicians and voters in the past. 

In 2022, Hungarian strongman Victor Orban seemed to be on the brink of losing elections against a united opposition. 

Yet, in the last weeks prior to the vote, Orban forged a comeback and brought another surprising victory to his party, cementing his control over Hungary despite the illiberal policies that he promotes.

In a highly polarised country like Turkey, polls can also cause people not to go out and vote on election day due to their confidence in a victory.

Whatever polls say, Erdogan has a strong voter base of some 30-35%, and he knows the profile of his electoral body very well while having every means to expand it.

The opposition, however, is very diverse and has less experience in working together. Just agreeing on the joint candidate could almost have ended the opposition’s alliance only two weeks ago — a tell-tale sign that not everything is as rosy as one would think.

Erdogan knows this, too, and will try to manipulate the opposition parties’ differences, especially regarding the Kurdish issue and the relationship with the pro-Kurdish HDP.

Erdogan still has cards up his sleeve

All things considered, the security and resilience of the electoral process must be the number one priority for opposition parties and civil initiatives between now and mid-May. 

The 2019 Istanbul election and the relentless work of Imamoglu and CHP’s provincial branch chair Canan Kaftancioglu have done to ensure the vote’s legitimacy should be seen as an example. 

Without their effort, Istanbul could still have been ruled by Erdogan’s AKP.

If the opposition wants to win, they, together with everyone who believes in the salvation of Turkish democracy, should not be passive and must jointly build up their defences against Erdogan’s games before, during and after the elections.

Because even if Kilicdaroglu wins, it will only be over once Erdogan says so and admits defeat. 

After all, two decades later, he will be hardly ready to give up on power without playing all of his remaining cards — and he still has plenty of those up his sleeve.

Hamdi Fırat Büyük is a journalist and political analyst working with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).

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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Cyprus president wants EU help to revive dialogue with Turkey

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine in full swing, the geopolitical landscape has completely changed, as have the priorities of the European Union, and its relations with other countries.

To discuss all this, and the new initiatives on the ongoing dispute between Greek Cypriots in the south and Turkish Cypriots in the north of the country, known as the ‘Cyprus problem’, Euronews spoke to the new President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides, during his first visit to Brussels as President, for the EU Summit.

‘The Cyprus problem’

On his trip to the European Union’s capital as President of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides came armed with a concrete proposal for a more active role for the European Union in resolving the Cyprus problem.

But given that dialogue between Cyprus and Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots has been frozen over the last six years, and considering that Turkey is currently further than ever from the European Union, what is Nikos Christodoulides expecting, and what can the European Union achieve that he could not after all these years?

“When launching an effort to resolve the Cyprus problem, we should always take into account the international situation. It is not ourselves who influence international developments, we are actually affected by international developments. 

“And what is the current state of affairs? The current state of affairs is that we have an illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine and we have a European Union, which, yes, pays the price for its decisions which are perfectly correct and we agree and participate in the decision-making process, but develops a leading role, also taking into account the impact of this Russian invasion on other actors in the international system. This is the first dimension: a leading role on behalf of the European Union in a crisis on the European continent.

“The second dimension is the election of a new President of the Republic of Cyprus. The third dimension concerns the elections in Turkey. We have a period until the elections in Turkey, which we should take advantage of, so that dialogue can resume.”

Upcoming elections in Turkey

With the Turkish presidential elections scheduled for May, Euronews asked the Cypriot president what changes he envisages, in the event that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gets re-elected, or if the leader of the main opposition, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, becomes Turkey’s next president.

“I certainly do not expect radical changes in Turkish foreign policy. At least this is what the history of Turkish foreign policy shows over time. But the election of a new president, whether it is Mr Erdogan or the leader of the current opposition still brings a new situation,” Christodoulides explained.

“And, I repeat, the important thing is to make use of this period, and that is what we have agreed with the three presidents of the EU institutions, to create the conditions immediately after the elections in Turkey, to resume talks on the basis of the agreed framework. Because, more than anyone else, we want an end to the occupation and the reunification of our homeland,” he added.

How does Christodoulides propose the EU tackles the ‘Cyprus problem’?

Given that the Cypriot president wishes for EU institutions to take the lead in dealing with tensions in Cyprus, Euronews asked Nikos Christodoulides if he sees this as putting the Cyprus problem in the context of EU-Turkey relations.

“There are two aspects of our proposal. The first is about the need to break the deadlock. We are not in the talks yet, but the first attempt is about breaking the deadlock to get the talks back on track. Here, we need the European Union’s leading involvement.

“But always in the context of the United Nations. We are not attempting to take the Cyprus issue away from the United Nations. On the contrary, the United Nations and the framework of the resolutions are our safeguards in the pursuit of our objective.

“But in order to break the deadlock, we believe that the European Union, through the appointment of a political official, through the actions of the institutions themselves, can support us to achieve this goal. And this is the first aspect of our proposal, it’s what we’re focusing on and aim to achieve immediately after the elections in Turkey.

“With the resumption of dialogue comes the second part of the proposal. A very specific aspect of our proposal is the technocratic support for the talks as soon as they resume.”

Cyprus’ historic ties with Russia

The Republic of Cyprus has historically had very good relations and strong ties with Russia in the past. Indeed, many aspects of this were severely criticised by Europe. But where do relations between the two countries stand today?

“Yes, there were historically strong ties with the Russian Federation, especially at the level of the people of the two countries. There was also an important dimension concerning the Cyprus issue and the fact that the Russian Federation is a permanent member of the Security Council, but the reality today is clearly different.

“The Republic of Cyprus will in no way escape the unanimous decisions of the European Union, in which I repeat, we also participate,” said the Cypriot president.

Does Cyprus support EU sanctions against Russia?

“Sanctions are a tool that is rightly used by the European Union. Where we may have a problem, is the implementation of sanctions, not just by Member States, but also by all those who are connected in one way or another with the European Union.

When asked to clarify his position on the sanctions, Christodoulides told Euronews, “Of course [I support them]”

The Eastern Mediterranean: An alternative to Russian energy?

As Europe looks to cut its dependence on Russian energy, Euronews asked Nikos Christodoulides what role Cyprus could play in this and if he had seen any increased interest from the European Union towards the Eastern Mediterranean.

“There is interest. There is interest that has been expressed before we took over the governance of the country. We have previously had some interest. I want to say things as they are, and it is this prospect of the famous gas corridor of the Eastern Mediterranean, through a leading role of the European Union and cooperation of the countries in the region.

“Yes, the Eastern Mediterranean can be developed as an alternative energy corridor for the European Union. In fact, according to the estimates of experts that know this matter better than me, the Eastern Mediterranean can cover up to 15% to 16% of the needs of the European Union over the next 25 years.”

“We have found gas and there are ongoing activities by companies located in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cyprus.

“This is an issue that we discussed with the ministerial council, especially with the Minister of Energy about the need, after consultation with companies, to go out in public, to tell the people the truth.

This gas will be used in that exact period of time. Until then, we will proceed to the stage of exploitation, because what worries me, is that in 5-10 years, in the context of the green transition, these reserves may not be in a position to be used.”

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Is the EU ready for Turkey’s increasingly likely democratic turn?

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

A democratic change in Turkey matters to Europe and appears to be increasingly likely. 

The upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections on 14 May have the potential to be the most consequential since the 1950 elections, which ended the single-party rule.

Declining support for the Justice and Development Party, AKP, combined with strong alliances in the opposition, could mark the end of the era of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

According to several polls, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the candidate of the six-party opposition alliance, is leading against Erdoğan.

A victory for Kılıçdaroğlu might signal the start of a new era of democratisation and Europeanisation in Turkey, as well as a chance to reset Turkey’s relations with the West.

A largely transactional relationship persists

The EU played a significant role in Turkey’s democratisation process following the Helsinki Summit in 1999 when Turkey was officially recognised as a candidate country for EU membership. 

However, the nature of this relationship has become largely transactional, especially since “the refugee deal” in 2016. 

The EU has made itself irrelevant by doing nothing else than expressing concerns over the developments in Turkey. 

Instead of an approach based on values, the EU prioritised mutual interests and failed to adopt a clear policy against the AKP’s increasingly authoritarian style of governance.

Turkey’s detachment from the EU, coupled with the EU’s interests-based approach, had far-reaching political, economic, social and security repercussions for both sides, as well as wider regional and global implications.

A democratic change in Turkey could provide a new opportunity for Brussels to play a crucial role and reassert its relevance. 

A new government in Turkey would definitely need the EU’s support to return to the democratisation path and tackle the ongoing economic crisis. 

Some in Brussels need to reexamine their orientalist approach

This also presents a significant chance for the EU, as it confronts major challenges like the threat posed by Russia, dependency on China, energy crisis and democratic backsliding in some EU member states.

A renewed relationship between Turkey and the EU could and should be established following the elections based on democratic values. 

Nevertheless, the critical question is whether the EU is ready for this prospect.

The prevailing understanding in Brussels, especially since the adoption of the presidential system in Turkey in 2017, is that a democratic change is unlikely to occur in the short- to mid-term. 

Despite the victory of the opposition in the 2019 municipal elections, many in Brussels remain sceptical that presidential elections can bring about a democratic change, with some assuming that Erdoğan will always find a way to stay in power. 

Consequently, the EU is not adequately prepared for a potential democratic change in Turkey. 

This perspective not only reflects an orientalist approach that disregards the efforts of millions of Turkish democrats but also fails to acknowledge the fact that, despite all major issues, Turkey has a long-standing democratic experience with strong political parties and civil society.

Recent democracy and fundamental rights issues a convenient excuse

Although there are numerous unfair practices during the campaign period, elections in Turkey remain free, and parties and volunteers possess considerable experience in ensuring election security.

Given Turkey’s significance to Europe, the EU cannot afford to miss the opportunity to re-engage with Turkey in the event of a democratic change, and yet the EU currently lacks a clear strategy for such a scenario. 

The EU’s lack of a long-term vision for Turkey could make the process of re-engaging with the country challenging. For some countries and Turkey-sceptic political groups, the current transactional relationship with Turkey is not entirely undesirable.

Despite complaints aboutErdoğan, this interest-based dialogue affords them the opportunity to avoid difficult decisions about the future of Turkey-EU relations.

While many in the EU have long been opposed to Turkey’s accession process based on cultural and religious arguments, the country’s recent struggles with democracy and fundamental rights have given them a convenient excuse to maintain a sceptical stance. 

Should Turkey return to a democratic path, those sceptical of the country will need to find new justifications for their stance. In any case, maintaining the status quo will not be a viable option.

Turkey’s EU accession path has to be fully revitalised

In the event of Kılıçdaroğlu’s victory, what options does the EU have? 

One relatively simple choice would be to initiate talks for the modernisation of the Customs Union, which both sides are eager to pursue and would be beneficial for both. 

Nevertheless, this may not suffice. 

Another crucial matter on the agenda is visa liberalisation, which could be more challenging in the short term due to possible resistance from certain EU member countries.

There are several other challenging topics between Turkey and the EU, including “the refugee deal”.

Kılıçdaroğlu intends to renegotiate the agreement to alleviate Turkey’s burden, as anti-refugee sentiments are growing in Turkey, and decreasing the number of refugees is a pledge of all opposition parties. 

While the primary promise is to send Syrian refugees back by striking a deal with Bashar al-Assad, it is unclear how many would realistically return to the country. 

The future of refugees in Turkey is a matter with potentially significant consequences for the EU and will undoubtedly be part of the post-election discussions with Turkey.

Sooner or later, a decision on Turkey’s accession process will be also necessary. Despite the numerous challenges, the EU has opted to leave the door open for Turkey, and this was the correct decision. 

If the EU chooses to terminate the accession process when Turkey returns to the path of democracy, it could be viewed as a punishment for the millions of Turkish democrats. 

Revitalising the process is another alternative, but achieving consensus to reopen new negotiation chapters and recommence the accession process will be a challenging task.

Threats to European security make strengthening relations with Ankara a priority

One may question whether Turkey can ever join the EU or if working towards a new type of strategic partnership could be a better option instead.

As a firm believer in the EU’s role in democratisation, I would support re-energising the accession process if and when the conditions are met. 

Even if accession seems unlikely in the near future, engaging in the accession process can yield mutual benefits for both Turkey and the EU. 

Considering global developments and threats to European security, the dynamics and the needs may quickly evolve. 

Ankara and Brussels may actually need each other more than they realise.

Given all these factors, instead of taking a reactive approach, the EU should adopt a proactive stance and develop a comprehensive action plan to be implemented in case of a democratic change in Turkey. 

It is imperative that the EU does not simply stand by and observe such a development. 

Taking action is essential if the EU intends to assert its influence as a significant regional and global player.

Dr Demir Murat Seyrek is an adjunct professor at VUB (Free University of Brussels) and Senior Policy Advisor at the European Foundation for Democracy.

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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Between Ukraine, Russia and the West: Turkey’s balancing act

Turkey has been walking a tightrope between Ukraine and Russia, trying not to harm the relations it has with both countries. 

So how did we get here, and is it a viable long term strategy for Ankara?

Less than two weeks into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on 10 March last year, Turkey entered the stage to play a mediator role between the countries, but the meetings held at foreign minister level in Antalya left participants empty-handed.

A few more attempts were made in the following days, including talks held in Istanbul, which were  praised as “significant” at the time, by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. 

Peace talks that bore little fruit halted on 17 May when Kyiv withdrew from the negotiation process.

A beacon of hope was lit last July when Russia agreed on an initiative brokered by the UN and Turkey on exporting grain from the Black Sea. The deal is due to expire on 18 March but unless there is a formal objection from either side, the grain export deal will continue. 

Dr Ali Bilgic, an associate professor at Loughborough University says Turkey has a unique position in the Ukraine war given its long-standing good relations with both parties. 

“Russia has been an important economic partner of Turkey, which has had trade relations with Ukraine as well. Turkey was an important soft power in Ukraine before the war too,” he tells Euronews.

Growing trade relations with Russia

Trying to reconcile the two sides during the course of the war, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expanded the existing cooperation in the energy sector with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. 

At the same time, leaders also talked about turning Turkey into a “gas hub” to export gas to Europe; while Russian President Vladimir Putin said he may consider Turkey as a transit country for a possible future gas pipeline. 

As ties got closer, concern amongst opposition in Turkey grew. Questions have been asked repeatedly in the Turkish press: would this friendship open a path for Russian manipulation of the Turkish elections in favour of Erdogan?

“Turkey’s trade relations with Moscow were already at a peak, against the backdrop of a series of sanctions imposed on Russia from the US and the EU,” says Professor Bilgic. 

According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK), Turkey doubled its trade volume when imports from Russia rose to $58.85 billion (€55.44 billion) in 2022 – that’s up from from $28.96 (€27.28  billion) billion the previous year.

Dr Bilgic said that Ankara and Moscow have also often cooperated in Syria since 2015. 

“Needless to say, Turkey has deep political, economic, and military relations with the West. It is quite difficult to find a state like Turkey, and Ankara has been using this unique position quite effectively”.

While Erdogan and his ‘dear friend’ Putin, were shaking hands on financial deals, Ankara continued backing Kyiv in the political arena and was one of the first to provide much needed humanitarian aid.

Turkish defence firm Baykar Tech have sold and donated drones to Ukraine and is planning to complete the construction of its manufacturing plant in the country within two years.

Turkey also sought to avoid an escalation by shutting down the straits that lead to the Black Sea, with the authority granted by the Montreux Convention. 

“Warships would be blocked from accessing the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, whether they come from countries bordering the Black Sea or not,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced in March 2022.

According to Dr Bilgic, the three countries are dependent on each other:

“Russia needs Turkey because, through Turkey, Moscow breaks its international isolation while keeping up economic relations with Turkey, ” explains Dr Bilgic.

“Ukraine needs Turkey militarily. But Turkey needs both Russia and Ukraine as well. In the case of Russia, Turkish exports have filled the gap created by international sanctions to a certain extent and this works for Ankara as the country’s economy has been in significant decline in the last few years”.

“In the case of Ukraine, Turkey sees the advantage of Ukraine as an obstacle to the Russian military build-up in the Black Sea region,” he adds.

But what about the West?

Turkey has preserved its stance by not joining the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU and US, taking a step further also obstructed NATO’s possible expansion with bids from Sweden and Finland.

Despite this, the West did not turn its back to Turkey completely because, according to Dr Bilgic, “it also needs Turkey”.

“Since the beginning of the war, China has been trying to adopt a mediator role in the conflict and Beijing’s efforts have been intensified recently. Particularly for Washington, this role is not acceptable given the rising tension with China. Turkey as a NATO state is a preferred option,” he argues.

On the other hand, Erdogan’s willingness to push relationships to the limits has not been completely without consequences. 

Dr Bilgic says the main loss has been economic, but there is also reputational damage in the West from continuing to block Swedish and Finnish NATO bids. 

At this point, says Bilgic, Western capitals are not questioning Turkey’s value politically, strategically, militarily or economically for the West, but there are some voices starting to question Turkey’s position in NATO. 

What’s still in it for Turkey?

According to Dr Bilgic, Turkey has won two main points with its ongoing diplomatic balancing act betwen Russia, Ukraine and the West. 

Firstly, he says that Turkey has “put its name on the map as a defence exporter” after investing heavily in the defence industry for a decade — and the Ukraine war has shown the rest of the world that Turkish weapons can be very effective. 

“Secondly,” says Bilgic, “Ankara has managed to show to the Global South countries that Turkey does not necessarily follow the West and can have an independent foreign policy”.

So how long can Turkey walk on this tightrope without falling off? That remains the biggest question. 

“The main risk for Turkey is that if the fight is intensified and Russia starts making gains, the patience for Turkey’s balancing act in the Western capitals might run out,” Dr Bilgic argues.

“Ankara might feel pressure to join the international sanctions. This can significantly disturb Ankara’s position in the war”.

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