President Emmanuel Macron expressed concern that Turkey will try to influence the upcoming French elections.
“The threats are not veiled, so I think we have to be very lucid,” Macron said Tuesday in an interview with France 5 television.
The comments go a bit out of the field on the left. Ties between Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been strained over issues ranging from religion to energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, but they exchanged letters in January and agreed to try to repair ties. On March 2 they followed up with a video call.
Macron did not explain how Turkey might try to interfere in the French elections, or whether he was referring to the June regional elections, the 2022 presidential elections, or both. He only said that Turkey would be “playing with public opinion.” It was probably a reference to their control over parts of the Turkish diaspora through schools, mosques, and other organizations.
Read more: Macron’s War Against Islamists Tackles Erdogan’s Soft Power
The French leader tried to voice his comments by saying that dialogue with Turkey is still necessary.
He noted that NATO member Turkey is an important trading partner and key ally in the fight against illegal immigration to Europe from the Middle East. “If you say overnight: we can no longer work with you, no more discussions, they open the doors and you have 3 million Syrian refugees arriving in Europe,” Macron said. “We must work with Turkey.”
France does not collect statistics on religion or ethnicity, so it is difficult to calculate how many citizens might be willing to do what Erdogan wants, if it is his intention to meddle. Either way, the number would likely be negligible.
As Macron begins campaigning for re-election, he has focused Islam and security related issues in an attempt to attract voters who might be thinking of backing far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Because Erdogan seeks to be the champion of Sunni Islam, this has led the two leaders into conflict, and both Erdogan and Macron have submitted disputes for national audiences.
During the 2017 presidential elections, Macron He accused Russia of hacking into his party’s servers and spreading disinformation. France’s National Cybersecurity Agency ANSSI concluded that the breach could have been carried out by anyone, but US authorities said much later that the perpetrators were Russian state-backed hackers. Russia denies the accusation.
European leaders will discuss the relationship with Turkey during a summit later this week. Last year, following the escalation of the situation in the eastern Mediterranean, the European Union threatened Turkey with sanctions.
Macron said Erdogan should make it clear whether he is with his NATO allies or against them.
“I have indicated since the beginning of the year, President Erdogan’s willingness to re-engage in the relationship, so I want to believe that this path is possible, “said Macron. “But we cannot re-engage if ambiguities persist.”