Fillon promotes pro-Russia views in Berlin
Francois Fillon, the French conservative presidential candidate, challenged Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel on Russia and refugees during a visit to Berlin, as both countries face critical elections later this year.
Fillon met with Merkel in a closed-doors meeting on Monday (23 January) in his first visit to the German capital since he won the centre-right primaries in November.
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Afterwards, he held a speech at the conservative think tank, the Konrad Adenauer foundation, where he said Russia should “be a major partner” and that the current EU policies towards Moscow were a "deadlock".
Merkel has been one of the main proponents of EU sanctions on Russia, but Fillon said the measures had been "totally ineffective".
He warned that the issue was particularly burning since a president with pro-Russian views has been installed as US president.
"It would be damaging for Europe if Trump went above our heads," Fillon said.
Better relations with Russia and Syria's Bashar al-Assad would also help to contain the threat of Islamist terror, he said.
In an interview with Le Monde and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Sunday, Fillon said that Europe's insistence that the Syrian president would vacate his post had been counterproductive.
"The Russian approach has avoided that the Islamic state takes power in Damascus… I know who Bashar Al-Assad is, I know what crimes he has committed but making his departure a prerequisite was a gross misjudgment which excluded the Europeans from the process," Fillon said.
He proposed that the EU would set up a security conference with Russia, "on the new security challenges in Europe".
Fillon, a former prime minister, is a frontrunner in France's presidential race. A recent poll put him behind the National Front's Marine Le Pen, but if the two make it to the election's second round, he can count of the support of other pro-democratic parties to block the extreme-right leader from power.
Fillon said he opposed an EU scheme to relocate refugees who are stuck in Greece and Italy to other member states.
"We can not accept more refugees," he said, and called for the closing of EU borders.
"If borders are not protected by our European partners, and in the context of the war against Islamic totalitarianism, France will re-establish real checks at its borders," he said.
Fillon also called for stronger Franco-German relations and defended the European Union.
Merkel, who is herself seeking a fourth term as chancellor in Germany's September election, didn't comment on Fillon's proposals.