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BERLIN (Reuters) – European Union sanctions on Russia are pointless, the frontrunner in France’s presidential election Francois Fillon said on Monday in Berlin, warning Russia and the United States under Donald Trump could forge links that exclude the EU.
Speaking after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has taken a hard line in favor of sanctions against Russia over its support for a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine, Fillon said a gesture from Russia would be needed before sanctions could be lifted.
“I am convinced that the economic sanctions are totally ineffective,” Fillon told reporters after meeting Merkel. “We must find another way to talk.”
He said: “I do not want (U.S. President Donald) Trump to talk with Russia at our expense. It would be damaging for Europe if Trump went above our heads, which is not inconceivable.”
Ukraine was also not doing what it needed to do to ensure peace, said Fillon.
Fillon told Le Monde daily that in the longer term he would aim for a new economic partnership with Russia and a Europe-Russia security conference, once the conflict in Ukraine was resolved.
Fillon met fellow conservative Merkel on a number of occasions when he was prime minister in 2007-2012.
Fillon said he and Merkel agreed on the need not to let the United States impose its extraterritorial laws that have cost European companies – especially banks – billions in fines and other settlements over violations of American sanctions against other countries.
“French and Germans are on the same page on the fact that we cannot let those rules – that are made for the United States, for the U.S. banking system and that are totally negative tools for Europe – be imposed on us,” he said.
He also criticized work at the Basel committee on banking regulation, which he said was not good for Europe.
Fillon said he had promised to quickly carry out structural reforms if elected and said his plans were “perfectly compatible” with what Germany expected.
Fillon is the only candidate in the April-May presidential election to be received by the German chancellor so far, in a sign of support from Merkel.
But Merkel looks unlikely to give him explicit backing – the meeting was not open to the media and there was no joint statement afterward.
Merkel, up for re-election herself in September, publicly backed conservative Nicolas Sarkozy when he sought re-election in 2012. He lost.
Asked if Merkel would be willing to meet the French presidential election’s Socialist candidate, who is to be nominated on Sunday, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told a news conference: “If there is a wish from the French side, then yes”.
(Additonal reporting by Joseph Nasr, Ingrid Melander and Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Janet Lawrence)