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MILITARY

Macron urges Turkey to respect Finland, Sweden NATO choice

French President Emmanuel Macron asked his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday to "respect the sovereign choice" of Finland and Sweden to join NATO.

Macron urges Turkey to respect Finland, Sweden NATO choice
France's President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the Conference on the Future of Europe. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / various sources / AFP

He was hoping to avoid Ankara vetoing their requests to join the trans-Atlantic defence pact.

Turkey warned Wednesday that the NATO accession process for Sweden and Finland would not move forward unless they addressed Ankara’s security concerns, a reference to their supposed sympathy toward Kurdish militant groups.

“The president underscored the need to respect the sovereign choice of these two countries, which emerged from a democratic process and in reaction to the changes in their security environment,” Macron’s office said after a telephone call with Erdogan.

“He said he hoped the discussions would continue to find a solution quickly,” his office added.

Stockholm and Helsinki submitted their bids to join NATO last week, reversing decades of military non-alignment, after political and public support for membership soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But Turkey, a NATO member, is throwing a spanner in the works as any membership must be unanimously approved by all alliance members.

Ankara accuses Stockholm in particular of providing a haven for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies.

Erdogan is also weighing a new military operation in northern Syria aimed at crushing Syrian Kurdish fighters who assisted the US-led campaign against the Islamic State group.

Such an incursion risks creating new tensions between Ankara and other NATO members, with the US warning this week that its soldiers could be put in jeopardy.

During the call between Erdogan and Macron, the two leaders agreed to continue efforts to restart Ukraine grain exports now that Russian forces control most of the country’s ports, in order to avoid food shortages that threaten several developing countries.

But the Kremlin denied Monday any blame for the halted grain deliveries, and accused Western countries of preventing cargo vessels from leaving Ukrainian ports.

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FRENCH POLITICS

Pro-Macron MP becomes France’s first woman speaker

France's lower house of parliament has agreed to pick an MP from President Emmanuel Macron's centrist coalition as the first woman speaker, despite the ruling alliance losing its majority in legislative elections.

Pro-Macron MP becomes France's first woman speaker

Yael Braun-Pivet, who had been serving as the minister for overseas territories, is the first woman to ever hold the post of speaker in the history of the Assemblée nationale.

Despite the loss of its overall majority, Macron’s ruling alliance still managed to push through her appointment in the second round of voting.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and other senior Macron backers have been trying to win over individual right-wing and moderate left parliamentarians to bolster their ranks.

Borne, appointed last month, is France’s second woman prime minister after the brief stint by Edith Cresson in the 1990s.

Olivier Marleix, head of the centre-right Les Républicains group seen as most compatible with Macron, met Borne on Tuesday. “We’ve told her again there is no question of any kind of coalition,” he said.

But he added that the prime minister “really showed that she wanted to listen to us. That’s quite a good sign.

“We’re here to try and find solutions,” he added. “There will be some draft laws where I think we should be able to work together,” including one to boost households’ purchasing power in the face of food and energy inflation.

“It’s not in the interest of parties who have just been elected” to make a long-term deal to support the government, said Marc Lazar, a professor at Paris’s Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Borne under pressure

One key question will be whether Thursday’s vote to head the finance committee – with its extensive powers to scrutinise government spending – will be won by an MP from the far-right Rassemblement National (RN).

Led by Macron’s defeated presidential opponent Marine Le Pen, the RN would usually have a claim on the post as the largest single opposition party.

It faces a stiff challenge from the NUPES left alliance – encompassing Greens, Communists, Socialists and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) – who agreed on Tuesday on a joint candidate after some internal jostling.

Next week could see exchanges heat up in the chamber, as government chief Borne delivers a speech setting out her policy priorities.

Macron told AFP at the weekend that he had “decided to confirm (his) confidence in Elisabeth Borne” and asked her to continue talks to find either allies for the government in parliament or at least backing for crucial confidence and budget votes.

The president has ruled out both tax increases and higher public borrowing in any compromise deals with other parties.

Even as the government projects business almost as usual, hard-left LFI especially has vowed to try to prevent key proposals, such as the flagship reform to raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 65.

Party deputy chief Adrien Quatennens said on Sunday there was “no possible agreement” with Macron, saying cooperation would “make no sense”.

“We haven’t heard (Macron) move or back down one iota on pension reform” or other controversial policies, he added.

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