BERLIN: Francois Fillon, frontrunner to become France’s next president, has sparked unease in Germany with his friendly attitude toward Russia, which could make him an uncomfortable ally for Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Fillon secured the nomination of the French conservative Republicans on Sunday with a resounding victory over his more moderate challenger Alain Juppe.
Opinion polls currently predict that he would handily beat far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the knock-out finals of next May’s presidential elections.
That in itself is cause for relief in Germany, France’s traditional core EU partner, which has been rattled by the US election of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote and the rise of right-wing populism in Europe.
“Any French president who is not Marine Le Pen is good news for the German government,” said Stefani Weiss, analyst on European issues at think tank the Bertelsmann Foundation.
There are other reasons why a Merkel-Fillon duo at the heart of Europe should at first glance be a good fit.
Both are from the conservative political family and rooted in the Christian faith, he a Catholic and she a Protestant.
The Frenchman’s pledges to drastically shake up the economy and slash state spending are welcomed by the German government, which staunchly preaches austerity and balanced books.
Fillon, a self-professed Thatcherite, is depicted in Germany like a French version of former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who drove home painful social welfare reforms in the early 2000s.
While deeply contested in those days, the policies of Schroeder, a Social Democrat, have since been credited with bringing down unemployment and making the German economy more competitive.