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Wider Europe Briefing: Sweden And Finland's Potential NATO Spoilers; Ways The EU Could Expand Sanctions On Russia

The flags of Finland, NATO, and Sweden. Twenty-eight out of 30 NATO allies have now ratified the two countries' protocols of accession to the military alliance. Hungary and Turkey, however, abstained.

Welcome to Wider Europe, RFE/RL's new newsletter focusing on the key issues concerning the European Union, NATO, and other institutions and their relationship with the Western Balkans and Europe's eastern neighborhoods. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL Europe Editor Rikard Jozwiak, and this week I'm drilling down on two major issues: What obstacles could slow down Finland and Sweden's NATO accession? And is Brussels edging closer to punishing third-party countries that help Russia?

Brief #1: What Could Spoil Sweden And Finland's NATO Accession?

What You Need To Know: Twenty-eight out of 30 NATO allies have now ratified Sweden and Finland's protocols of accession to the military alliance. Which two opted out? Turkey and Hungary. But there does seem to be some movement in Ankara and Budapest. According to Hungarian officials, the parliament should vote on the issue at the end of November and wrap up the process before Christmas. As for Turkey, which so far has chosen to see how Finland and, more importantly, Sweden implement the remainder of the trilateral memorandum signed in Madrid in June, there are also some signs of a window of opportunity opening.

Deep Background: The thing to look out for this week is the likely trip by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to Ankara. It comes after the new Swedish prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, had what he called "a constructive phone call" with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week. Kristersson recently indicated he was ready to travel to Turkey "as soon as possible" and Erdogan confirmed a meeting will take place even though no date has been set.

Ankara will certainly look at how quickly and keenly Sweden implements provisions from the June memorandum. The previous Swedish government delivered on some aspects of the pact: A 2019 arms embargo on Ankara was promptly lifted, and there have been moves to stop financing and support for Kurdish groups in Syria. But those were the easy parts. The question now is how to deal with the trickier challenges, namely Sweden clamping down on the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and extraditing people Turkey deems to be terrorists.

Both Finland and Sweden have long classified the PKK as a terrorist organization, but in the memorandum they committed to "preventing activities of the PKK and all other terrorist organizations and their extensions, as well as activities by individuals in affiliated and inspired groups or networks linked to these terrorist organizations." Exactly how to identify so many members of this network is anyone's guess, but Sweden -- home to an estimated 100,000 people of Kurdish origin -- will probably have to be more vigilant.

Drilling Down

  • The extraditions will be the real litmus test for Sweden. So far, two extradition requests have been approved, but it is still unclear how many more Ankara is seeking. Numbers circulating in the media have ranged from 18 to 73 people, but officials I spoke to say what Turkey is looking at more than anything is Sweden’s willingness to at least entertain the requests.
  • The new Swedish government, established in mid-October after a tight election win a month earlier, might find it easier than its predecessor to deal with Ankara for several reasons. The three right-wing parties that make up the minority government are all staunchly pro-NATO, which wasn't the case with their main governing predecessor, the Swedish Social Democratic Party. They might also find the extraditions easier to swallow considering it’s no longer an electoral issue and Swedish Kurds have traditionally been left-leaning -- in other words, they're not a hugely important voting base for the right-wing parties in power. Notably, Amineh Kakabaveh, an Iranian-born Kurd and former peshmerga fighter who in the previous Swedish parliament was an independent deputy and political kingmaker, lost her bid for reelection in the latest polls.
  • The government, however, relies on the support of the far-right Sweden Democrats to secure a working majority. The Sweden Democrats have switched their position on NATO and are now in favor of joining, but the party’s anti-immigration rhetoric and swipes against Islam could create further tensions with Ankara.
  • When can Sweden and Finland finally become members? Some officials say everything could be done and dusted by the end of this year, but the process could very well spill over into early 2023. It's worth considering, too, that Erdogan is set to fight a protracted presidential election next June and the Finns head to the polls in early April. According to EU diplomats familiar with the issue, there is a renewed willingness to sort this out well before then.

Brief #2: What's Next For EU Sanctions?

What You Need To Know: In the latest sanctions package imposed on Russia, adopted by the European Union earlier this month, the bloc opened up the possibility of targeting individuals and companies in third countries for helping EU entities circumvent the restrictive measures imposed on the Kremlin.

This could become an important tool to use against countries in the bloc's neighborhood; it would also be a significant U-turn for the EU. After having railed against the United States for applying and threatening companies with secondary sanctions for years -- including some EU firms -- Brussels now appears to be moving in the same direction in an attempt to choke the Russian war machine through its secondary and tertiary partners.

Deep Background: Even though Brussels is edging closer toward to what is known as sanctions extraterritoriality, there are still limits. While any potential future measures apply equally to EU and non-EU actors, there must be a clear EU link. Thus, the measure is only applicable to people or companies if they help EU people or companies circumvent EU sanctions on Russia.

In that respect, they lack the sweeping global scope of U.S. secondary sanctions and would likely lack the same depth. For example, Brussels would only target a company or person with visa bans and asset freezes, whereas Washington can cut off any sanctioned entity entirely from its financial system, creating much larger economic consequences and reputational damage. The main question remains, however, as to whether extraterritoriality measures will be used at all; so far even the United States has refrained from using its secondary sanctions toolkit in relation to third countries' dealings with Russia.

Drilling Down

  • The EU diplomats I spoke to on the condition of anonymity indicated that the move to broaden the scope of EU sanctions should primarily be read as scare tactics to force third countries into aligning with the EU position on the issue. Some countries, notably EU candidate countries Serbia and Turkey, have not followed Brussels' lead on sanctions to date. Brussels, however, remains reluctant to target countries in its neighborhood, the main thinking being that it doesn’t want to be seen as pushing them away from the bloc.
  • Diplomatic capacity is another potential obstacle. So-called sanctions evidence packages need to be prepared by member states and the European External Action Service, the EU's diplomatic service, which is already working overtime to find reasonable legal grounds to target Russian industries. Investigating third-country dealings might be too much of a bureaucratic strain. In many ways, Brussels is missing its own version of the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, which administers and enforces American sanctions.
  • Then there is the issue of legality. Even if evidence packages were to be prepared, they must also stand up to a potential challenge in the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Once again, Washington appears to have a smoother setup, as hinted at by one high-ranking EU diplomat: "The EU is accountable to the ECJ; the U.S. is accountable only to God."
  • If the EU manages to overcome these hurdles and decides to use the new, widened scope, who will be targeted? That's anyone's guess, but it was telling that it was Cyprus and Greece who were allegedly instrumental in pushing for the bloc going toward extraterritoriality.
  • Does that mean Turkey might be in the crosshairs? In a leaked European Commission document assessing the impact of the EU's Russia sanctions so far -- a document seen by RFE/RL -- Turkey, alongside China, is mentioned in a subchapter on circumvention with the text stating that "the value of Turkey's exports to Russia nearly doubled since the second quarter [of 2022]." The document also states that "exports of some member states to Turkey have also risen sharply over 2022."

Looking Ahead

This week will be a bit slower due to the All Saints holiday on November 1, marked across some parts of Europe. There are still, however, two meetings in Germany to watch. On November 3, the leaders of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia will be in Berlin to sign three agreements.

One agreement enables people from these six Western Balkan countries to only use IDs to travel across their respective borders. The other two agreements will ensure mutual recognition of university diplomas as well as vocational qualifications. And on November 3-4, G7 foreign ministers will convene in the German city of Munster. Talks will mainly focus on Ukraine, including more potential sanctions, financial aid, and weapons deliveries.

We are slowly approaching the end of the year, and that usually means one thing in Brussels: summit time. In December, the EU squeezes in yet another meeting: a first-ever EU-ASEAN summit slated for December 14. Diplomats are already working on a draft leaders' statement for the meeting, and the war in Ukraine will likely feature prominently.

The EU was badly damaged by accusations, largely from the Global South, that its sanctions on Russia caused food prices to soar worldwide. And in the latest draft leaders' statement, seen by RFE/RL, Brussels is pushing for language that states that "we condemn the use of disinformation by Russia on this crucial issue, aimed at distorting the link between global food prices and Russia's actions in Ukraine."

The draft statement adds that "in this context, we recall Russia's blockage of Ukrainian ports, the deliberate destruction of Ukrainian agricultural facilities, and Russia's restrictions imposed on its own export of agricultural products and fertilizers."

That’s all for now. I really hope you enjoyed the first edition of Wider Europe. To subscribe, click here. Please feel free to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you might have. You can also follow me on on Twitter @RikardJozwiak.

And you can always reach us at

Until next time,

Rikard Jozwiak

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

About The Newsletter

The Wider Europe newsletter briefs you every Monday on key issues concerning the EU, NATO, and other institutions’ relationships with the Western Balkans and Europe’s Eastern neighborhoods.

For more than a decade as a correspondent in Brussels, Rikard Jozwiak covered all the major events and crises related to the EU’s neighborhood and how various Western institutions reacted to them -- the war in Georgia, the annexation of Crimea, Russia’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, the downing of MH17, dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, the EU and NATO enlargement processes in the Western Balkans, as well as visa liberalizations, free-trade deals, and countless summits.

Now out of the “Brussels bubble,” but still looking in -- this time from the heart of Europe, in Prague -- he continues to focus on the countries where Brussels holds huge sway, but also faces serious competition from other players, such as Russia and, increasingly, China.

To subscribe, click here.