China / World

France's Fillon: Russia sanctions are pointless

By Reuters in Berlin (China Daily) Updated: 2017-01-25 08:18

European Union sanctions on Russia are pointless, the front-runner in France's presidential election Francois Fillon said on Monday in Berlin, warning Russia and the United States under Donald Trump could forge links that exclude the European Union.

Speaking after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the conservative candidate said the EU was "despised by major powers" because of its divisions and must better defend its economic interests.

The relationship between France and Germany is essential to driving those changes but it must be a partnership of equals, Fillon said, flexing his muscles on the campaign trail to say the two countries must be open about their differences.

"We have differences? Let's accept them instead of denying them. We have divergences on the issue of refugees or on economic policy? Let's face them to better overcome them," he told a conference.

One of those differences is on Russia, where Germany has taken a hard line in favor of EU sanctions over Moscow's annexation of Crimea.

"I am convinced that the economic sanctions are totally ineffective," Fillon said earlier on Monday. "We must find another way to talk," he said, while adding that a gesture from Russia would be needed before sanctions could be lifted.

"I do not want (President) Trump to talk with Russia at our expense. It would be damaging for Europe if Trump went above our heads, which is not inconceivable," he said.

'On the same page'

Fillon, who last year was called an "upstanding person" by Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that in the longer term he would aim for a new economic partnership and a Europe-Russia security conference, once the conflict in Ukraine was resolved.

Fillon is the front-runner in opinion polls but his ratings have dropped slightly and surveys predict an increasingly tight race between him, far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.

With a pro-business focus on cutting public spending, Fillon is generally seen as an ally by fellow conservative Merkel on economic issues.

Fillon said he and Merkel were "on the same page" on the need not to let the US impose its laws that have cost European banks billions of euros in fines and other settlements over violations of US sanctions against other countries.

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