MOSCOW (Sputnik) – France’s former prime minister François Fillon topped the second presidential hopeful from The Republicans party, also former prime minister, Alain Juppe, in popularity in the Thursday primary debate, even though the two expressed similar views on some issues.
Former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy finished with the third result and thus was eliminated from the race. Sarkozy has already endorsed Fillon, who served in his government in 2007-2012.
Over half of French viewers thought Fillon was more convincing during the Thursday night debate with Juppe, according to an Elabe survey conducted at the request of BFMTV. Out of right-wing supporters, over 70 percent preferred Fillon while 28 percent favored Juppe.
Both of the presidential hopefuls stressed on Thursday that France must better defend its own interests in foreign policy, but disagreed on certain internal reform issues.
FRANCE MUST STAND ITS GROUND
Fillon attacked the policy of French President François Hollande with regard to Russia, calling for more independence on the part of France.
"What counts in the foreign policy that I want to pursue is that France defend its interests. The policy of Hollande with regard to Russia is absurd, it pushes Russia to harden, to isolate itself … The real danger for Europe, economic [danger], is the Asian continent," Fillon said during the Thursday debates.
He also criticized France’s current policy with regard to Syria and called for dialogue with Iran and Russia in that respect.
"To stop this [Syrian] war, we must bring the Russians back into a discussion with the Europeans, talk with Iran, and accept the idea of a temporary agreement that will allow for a form of status quo," Fillon said.
The second republican frontrunner Alain Juppe agreed that France needs to go along a different path in foreign policy than the current one and defend its interests.
"France must be itself and reconquer its freedom of choice. France must become what it once was, a power of world influence. We are a nuclear power, what is not ok is that our economy is weakened and our voice has become inaudible. I want to strengthen that voice. From that point on, we are free from our choices, I do not want France to be dependent either on Washington or Moscow," Juppe said.
Juppe expressed surprise on Thursday at the reaction of Russian President Vladimir Putin to François Fillon. On Wednesday, Putin praised Fillon saying he was "professional to the highest degree and an honest person" who "differs much from politicians in today's world."
"It so happens that we worked together because I was prime minister for five years and he was prime minister for five years," Fillon explained.
Speaking about the Ukrainian issue, Fillon agreed that Russia needs to respect the Minsk deal, but said that in order for that to happen Kiev needs to respect the deal as well. Both Fillon and Juppe said expressed opposition to Crimea's reunification with Russia.
DISAGREEMENT OVER DIVERSITY
Fillon said on Thursday that he does not consider France to be multicultural and expects foreigners to integrate into local communities.
"No, France is not a multicultural nation. France has a history, a language and a culture, which have been enriched by external contributions," Fillon said on Thursday.
"When one comes to the home of another, out of courtesy, one does not take the power," Fillon said.
In his turn Juppe said that different religions and political ideas enrich France, as long as they lead to the strengthening of the country’s unity.
"The identity of France is its diversity, we are not all alike," Juppe said.
Both Fillon and Juppe acknowledged that security must be heightened in France and that law enforcement needs to be strengthened.
Fillon warned that if radical reforms are not implemented in France soon, there is a danger that the French "will turn away from politics and be tempted by extremism." He accused Juppe of being a supporter of only mild change, which is not enough for France, according to Fillon.
TOO MANY DEPUTIES
Both François Fillon and Alain Juppe called for a reduced number of parliament members in the country.
During the Thursday debates, Fillon said a referendum should be held on the issue.
"I think we must go through a referendum because I do not see parliamentarians voting for such a reform [reducing the number of deputies and senators]," Fillon said.
Meanwhile Juppe said that the number of deputies and senators (currently at over 900) could be reduced in half.
Both Fillon and Juppe want to cut the number of official posts, although the two disagree over the exact number. Fillon also wants to increase the number of working hours in the public service sector, without increasing pay, while Juppe has stressed that asking officials to work more for the same salaries is unfair.
While the two agree on the necessity of pension reform and government spending reductions, Fillon insists on more radical reforms, while Juppe is sticking to a more mild approach.
The second and final round of The Republicans primaries between Fillon and Juppe is set for November 27. The first round of presidential elections in France is scheduled for April 23, 2017.