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France - Germany

Fillon explains ideas on Russia, Syria, migrants to Merkel in Berlin

Francois Fillon, gives a press statement at Hotel de Rome in Berlin
Francois Fillon, gives a press statement at Hotel de Rome in Berlin AFP

French right-wing presidential candidate François Fillon visited Germany on Monday, lunching with Chancellor Angela Merkel and meeting the finance and defence ministers. While Merkel shares many of his conservative views, they differ on relations with Russia, the refugee question and the Syrian war.

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After a working lunch with the chancellor, Fillon was due to meet German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen.

Merkel had no plans to speak to the press after meeting him, as she did when Nicolas Sarkozy visited Berlin in 2012.

That was seen as showing support for him in that year's French election thus initially poisoning relations with the eventual winner, François Hollande.

But Merkel and Fillon are from the same conservative political family and, with polls currently showing Fillon facing the National Front's Marine Le Pen in May's deciding round, the German leaders are seriously worried by the far-right leader's Euroscepticism.

EU, refugees, defence

But Fillon is less well-liked in Berlin than Alain Juppé, whom he beat in the mainstream right's primary last month.

German politicians have not forgotten that he opposed the Maastricht treaty in the 1992 referendum in France.

During the presidential campaign he has said he wants France to have the "first place in Europe", arguing that Hollande has "weakened" the Paris's position in relation to Berlin, and he is opposed to expansion of the eurozone, which Merkel would like to see grow to 27 countries.

Above all, despite Germany's appeals for other European countries to follow its example in taking more refugees, he has declared that France cannot accept any more migrants and called for a tougher European immigration policy.

He even sees Europe's defence policy in the light of the battle with "Islamic totalitarianism", calling on Germany to join France's military intervention in Mali and advocating a European defence alliance.

Relations with Russia

Fillon's main criticism of the EU is over Russia.

He believes Europe has pushed President Vladimir Putin into a corner with "naive" sanctions over Moscow's policy towards Ukraine and should accept that Ukraine and Georgia cannot join the EU.

And he sees Putin has been as an honest broker in the Syrian conflict.

"Russia's action prevented the Islamic State [armed group] taking power in Damascus," he declared in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Le Monde newspapers ahead of his Berlin trip.

And making President Bashar al-Assad's departure a precondition for talks with the regime was a "serious error of judgement", he added.

Balanced budgets and job cuts

Merkel will find little to object to in Fillon's economic policy, however.

An orthodox advocate of reducing national debt, he promises to balance the budget in 2022 after cutting 100 billion euros and shedding 500,000 public-sector jobs.

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