PARIS French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on January 23 to outline his plans for a Europe which he said should focus on defence, security and a tighter euro zone.
While Europe is rarely much of a factor in French presidential elections, the bloc's future has taken center-stage in recent days, with candidates from the far-right National Front, and the mainstream left and right wing parties exposing very different views.
"For the United States, our continent will likely not be a priority anymore and for Germany, a certain idea of pacifism is gone," said Fillon, referring both to the election of Donald Trump and the Berlin truck attack claimed by Islamic State.
"France must seize this opportunity to re-mobilise the European Union around strategic priorities: our collective security, defence, innovation and the re-tightening of the euro zone," said Fillon, the favourite in opinion polls for the April and May presidential election.
Fillon, who did not detail his plans and did not say what he meant by a tighter euro zone, said he would meet Merkel in the coming days "to spell out to her my orientations for Europe." The meeting will take place on January 23 in Berlin, an aide said.
Fillon is viewed by Merkel's government as an ally in areas such as economic reform, where he has proposed a shock-and-awe approach involving deep cuts to public spending.
But on other issues, from Russia and Turkey to migration and Europe, Fillon's views differ to those of Merkel, who is seeking a fourth term as German chancellor.
Fillon, who was addressing journalists and lawmakers, also said he wanted to "muscle up" France's defence and move to a more "imaginative" foreign policy.
Fillon, who had already received praise from Russian President Vladimir Putin, was on Monday described positively by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"His rhetoric on terrorism, making combating terrorists a priority and not interfering in other countries' business, was welcome," Assad told French media.
(Reporting by Ingrid Melander and Simon Carraud; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)