14:32 GMT +315 December 2019
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    Francois Fillon, left, and Jean-Francois Cope (File)

    French Elections: Arch-Conservative Fillon Supporter Touts 'Pragmatic Approach'

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    In an interview with Sputnik, Jean-Francois Cope, former leader of the French conservative party Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and supporter of embattled French presidential candidate Francois Fillon, focused on a number of sensitive issues including the upcoming elections in France and the anti-Russian sanctions.

    According to the survey's results, published by Le Journal de Dimanche newspaper earlier this month, 96 percent of Republican voters believe that former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon will continue to run in the presidential race.

    An identical poll conducted two weeks earlier indicated that 68 percent of respondents wanted Fillon to step down as a presidential nominee.

    Fillon, who was initially one of the pollsters' favorites, saw his ratings drop after a scandal broke out in late January around his wife allegedly having been paid for jobs without exercising her duties. French media also questioned Fillon's children's employment as his parliamentary assistants between 2005 and 2007.

    On February 12, Fillon confirmed in an interview with the Le Journal du Dimanche his decision to continue to pursue his bid for France's presidency despite the ongoing scandal. The first round of French presidential elections is scheduled for April 23, while the run-off is slated for May 7.

    On Francois Fillon

    Asked about whether the scandal will prevent Fillon from making it to the second round of the presidential elections, Jean-Francois Cope told Sputnik that he would like Fillon to succeed because "there is no other choice."

    "The French presidential polls will be held in two months. It is impossible to imagine these elections without a candidate from France's right-wing parties. Of course, if only because we don't want the victory of the far-right party of Marine Le Pen, which would be a denial of democracy," he said.

    He added that "the main goal — regardless of the personality of Fillon – is to have a candidate from the right-wing parties who will be able to uphold our program, the only one that can enable the country to stay afloat."

    "This is a pragmatic choice. And since we live in an era of pragmatism, the situation is developing successfully," Cope said, adding that for him, there is "no other choice" than Fillon.

    When asked about rumors that there were frustrated Republicans who could be behind the campaign against Fillon, Cope rejected the allegations.

    "No, I don't think so. It all started with the press, and then the investigation was opened, something that took place two months before the elections. So I don't think that the right-wing parties were behind sparking the scandal around Fillon," he said.

    On the forthcoming presidential elections in France

    Cope said that his supporters mobilized their efforts "to convince the French that the structural reforms we propose are urgently needed."

    "We need to focus on issues that are very important for the country, including those related to the economy, energy, security and diplomacy," he said.

    Separately, Cope touched upon the election campaign of presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron, which Cope said "is not quite serious."

    According to Cope, Macron behaves like a "star", who wants to save the country, but does not have a program.

    "He says what people want to hear, a trick that has been used [by politicians] for years. We know that at the beginning of the presidential race people have illusions. Our strategy is to make people understand that Macron's message is false. We would like to ask him concrete questions, which will reveal his weak points," Cope said.

    On sanctions and relations with Russia

    Addressing the issue, Cope again called for a pragmatic approach, which he said should be combined with the identification of common values and common interests.

    "We have to be pragmatic. Proceeding from this, we see the real situation: the anti-Russian sanctions and Moscow's retaliatory punitive measure are a loss for both sides, both Europe and Russia," he said.

    According to Cope, this is one of the explanations of the economic recession currently in place in some European countries.

    "The embargo means lower revenues for our commercial, industrial and agricultural companies, something that should be stopped. I personally support the idea of ending the embargo in order to return to partnership relations with Russia," he said.

    Cope underscored that "despite all the problems, we cannot go back to the Cold War."

    "We must understand that we need a partnership with Russia in several areas, including defense, security and agriculture. This could be something that would give a new impetus to our cooperation," he concluded.

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