German Chancellor Angela Merkel met in Berlin with French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon on Monday, as the two countries face critical elections this year.
The closed door meeting was followed by a speech, in which Fillon said Paris and Berlin would diverge on some issues but that Franco-German cooperation was vital to defending the European project that is facing uncertainty due to Britain's vote to leave the EU and the new administration of US President Donald Trump.
"In the current situation, where our Europe is threatened with disappearance from the international stage, it is our responsibility to take decisions," he told an audience at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation think tank, which has close ties to Merkel's conservatives.
The former French prime minister said Europe needed a "jolt" to respond to a changing world, while "defining our priorities" in areas including economic policy, security and shared values.
Fillon is tipped to face off and defeat far-right National Front leader Marie Le Pen in the final round of elections in May.
'We can not accept more refugees'
While delivering an impassioned call for Franco-German cooperation and defense of the European Union, Fillon was tougher on the issue of immigration and Islamic extremism.
"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 pledged.
"We can not accept more refugees," he said, in criticism of Merkel's 2015 decision to open the doors to refugees and migrants.
Merkel, who is running for a fourth term in Germany's September election, has since toughened Germany's migration policy and led Europe's response to reducing migrant flows from the Middle East and Africa.
The reversal comes as the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has been able to peel away some voters from Merkel's conservatives and her coalition partner, the Social Democrats.
A possible French shift on Russia
Fillon, who is known for his soft stance on Russia, told reporters earlier Monday that European and American economic sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine were "totally ineffective."
"We must find another way to talk," he said, adding that Russia would first need to take some positive steps on Ukraine.
"I do not want Trump to talk with Russia at our expense," he said, referring to the US president's positive comments about Moscow. "It would be damaging for Europe if Trump went above our heads, which is not inconceivable."
cw/cmk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)