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    German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon shake hands after a press conference following talks at the chancellery in Berlin March 10, 2010. T

    Immigration, Russia on Agenda as French Frontrunner Fillon Meets Merkel

    © AFP 2019 / John Macdougall
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    EU immigration, the Eurozone and relations with Russia are on the agenda as German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets French presidential frontrunner Francois Fillon in Berlin, with the Frenchman's call for immigration quotas and better ties with Moscow to challenge Merkel's stance on the matter.

    Fillon said he would use the meeting with Merkel on Monday, January 23, "to spell out to her my orientations for Europe," and is expected to seek support from fellow conservatives in Berlin ahead of France's Presidential election in April.

    "The Franco-German relationship is absolutely essential. Nothing in Europe will be done without its impetus," Fillon told Le Monde newspaper.

    "I want to strengthen it, in a partnership of equals," he added, in a swipe at outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande.

    ​Fillon, the pro-business candidate for the center-right Les Republicains, has pledged to reform France's economy, prioritized security and defense as well as promising to make changes to the Eurozone.

    Francois Fillon, former French prime minister and member of Les Republicains political party, delivers his speech after partial results in the second round for the French center-right presidential primary election in Paris, France, November 27, 2016.
    © REUTERS / PHILIPPE WOJAZER
    Francois Fillon, former French prime minister and member of Les Republicains political party, delivers his speech after partial results in the second round for the French center-right presidential primary election in Paris, France, November 27, 2016.

    "For the United States, our continent will likely not be a priority anymore and for Germany, a certain idea of pacifism is gone," Fillon said earlier this month, in reference to Trump's election win and the December 2016 Berlin truck attack.

    "France must seize this opportunity to re-mobilize the European Union around strategic priorities: our collective security, defense, innovation and the re-tightening of the Eurozone."

    Fillon to Test Merkel on Immigration

    While Fillon is expected to be an ally of Merkel on the issue of economic reform, the pair could clash on key issues such as immigration and foreign policy.

    The presidential frontrunner has called for France to introduce immigration quotas for non-EU citizens, citing the impacts on the country's economic malaise.

    ​"France is now facing a new migration challenge. Our demography is one of the most dynamic in Europe so that, unlike most of our European neighbors, we do not need immigration to support our growth," Fillon's manifesto states.

    "At the same time, the economic and social crisis — unemployment rate of 10%, above the European Union average, record budget and social deficits, collapse of housing construction — is such that we do not have the Capacity to accommodate additional immigration."

    ​Immigration has been a divisive issue in Europe in recent years, with the matter playing a large role in the UK's decision to vote to leave the union last year, with many Brexiteers also calling for immigration exemptions.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with refugee children at a preschool, during a visit to a refugee camp on April 23, 2016 on the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep
    © AFP 2019 /
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with refugee children at a preschool, during a visit to a refugee camp on April 23, 2016 on the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep

    Fillon's call for immigration quotas also appears to be at odds with Merkel's "open door" immigration policy, which has seen large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers move to Germany from war-torn countries in the Middle East.

    ​"In 2007, the number of asylum applications registered in France was close to 30,000, of the order of 70,000 in 2014. However, if 80% of asylum seekers see their applications definitively rejected each year, only 5% of those 'rejected' actually leave France. The others remain clandestinely in France in the hope of regularization. This situation jeopardizes all our social facilities and in particular our accommodation facilities," Fillon added in is manifesto. 

    Merkel has come under pressure both at home and abroad for the German government's stance on refugee crisis, with critics accusing the government of placing excessive economic and security strains on Germany, and in the turn the EU, as a result of the high number of new arrivals.

    Russian Sanctions 'Totally Ineffective'

    Another hot topic that could split Fillon and Merkel is the issue of relations with Russia.

    While Merkel has led Europe's tough approach on Russia over its actions in Ukraine and Crimea, Fillon has consistently been more sympathetic, accusing the West of provoking Moscow, while also calling for more dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    "I am convinced that the economic sanctions are totally ineffective," he told reporters in Berlin.

    "We must find another way to talk," Fillon added.

    Meanwhile, Fillon also said that Ukraine and Georgia should not gain access to either the EU or NATO as part of any future expansion.

    ​Given that Fillon is currently the favorite to become president, and that Franco-German relations have formed the bedrock of the EU, diplomatic eyes will be closely examining the outcome of the Frenchman's talks with Merkel and any reaction that might follow.

    Related:

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    Tags:
    Eurozone, migrant crisis, EU-Russia relations, asylum seekers, economic reform, immigration, sanctions, French Presidential Election 2017, The Republicans, European Union, Angela Merkel, Francois Fillon, Germany, Europe, France
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