Fillon says the future of France is not multicultural

French conservative frontrunner Francois Fillon said Thursday he would be a president who brought in "radical" change but does not want French society to become multicultural, in the final debate before the second round of the rightwing primary.

Fillon says the future of France is not multicultural
Photo: AFP

If Fillon beats Alain Juppe in Sunday's primary, he is widely tipped to become the next president with polls showing he would likely face and defeat far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the run-off next May.

Fillon however insisted his vision of France was not as a multicultural country.

When asked whether he saw the future of French society as multicultural he said: “the answer is no”.

“France has a history, a language, a culture, of course this culture and language have been enriched by the contributions of foreign populations, but it remains the foundation of our identity,” he said.

When asked during Thursday night's debate if France was already a multicultural country Fillon said “No, in any case it's not the choice we made, we did not make the choice of communitarianism and multiculturalism.”

“When we go to somebody’s house, we don’t try to take power,” said Fillon adding that immigrants must respect France's cultural heritage.

His rival Juppé disagreed saying “the identity of France was diversity.”

Fillon, the surprise runaway winner in the first round of the rightwing contest last weekend, underlined his intention to reform a country he said was “on the verge of revolt”.

“It is true that my project is more radical and perhaps more difficult,” said Fillon, whose economic ideas have been compared to those of late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Fillon, a 62-year-old former prime minister, wants to slash an eye-popping 500,000 public sector jobs over five years and scrap the 35-hour working week in a bid to kick-start the sluggish French economy.

Fillon said his opponent, the 71-year-old centrist Juppe, would not go far enough. “He doesn't really want to change things, he wants to improve certain things but I'm sure it won't be enough.”

Juppe responded that cutting that many civil servants' jobs “would not be possible”. He favoured “deep and credible” reforms without what he called the “brutality” of Fillon's proposals.

'Putin choosing candidate'

Juppe hit home in the televised debate with a jibe at Fillon's perceived closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin knew Fillon when they were both prime ministers and the Russian president praised him Wednesday as a “great professional” and a “very principled person”.

“This must be the first presidential election in which the Russian president chooses his candidate,” Juppe said.

Fillon brushed off Putin's comments but said the West must work more closely with Russia at a time when relations are at their worst since the Cold War.

“Russia is a dangerous country if we treat it as we have treated it for the last five years,” Fillon said.

He said the real danger to Europe was not Russia, it was the economic threat of “the Asian continent”.

Television viewers gave victory in the debate to Fillon, reflecting a poll Wednesday that showed he would win 65 percent of votes on Sunday against 35 percent for Juppe.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy was eliminated in a shock result in the first round.

Juppe and Fillon, a devout Catholic, have clashed this week over the latter's attitude to abortion.

But Fillon protested Thursday he had been wrongly portrayed as a “conservative from the Middle Ages” and said he had no intention to reform abortion law even if he personally was opposed to it.

“My conscience is my business,” he said.

Le Pen is currently forecast to come first or second in the first round of the election on April 23 with around 30 percent of the vote, but then fail in the run-off on May 7.

But following the wave of populism that led British voters to choose to leave the European Union and swept Donald Trump to victory in the United States, no-one is writing off the National Front (FN) leader's chances.

Fillon dismissed suggestions his conservative approach made it hard for voters to distinguish between him and Le Pen.

“I have always fought the National Front,” he said, adding: “We have to prevent Madame Le Pen from reaching the second round.” If she did, it would be the sign of an “ailing democracy”.

Le Pen says she wants to ditch the euro and organise a referendum on France's EU membership — a move that would put the future of European integration at stake.

A re-election bid by deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande seemingly moved closer on Thursday after figures showed a slight fall in the number of unemployed in October.

Hollande has said he would only stand again if he could make a “credible” reduction in unemployment by the end of his mandate. He said the figures were proof his approach was “bearing fruit”.

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Fillon ridiculed for saying he can’t save money (despite being on €13,000 a month)

French presidential candidate François Fillon was lambasted on Monday after claiming he wasn’t good at saving money. French news sites and social media users were quick to point out his healthy salary.

Fillon ridiculed for saying he can’t save money (despite being on €13,000 a month)
Photo: AFP

Fillon opened himself up for more yet more stinging criticism on Monday when he told BFM TV interviewer Jean-Jacques Bourdin that he struggled to put money aside.

Fillon, whose campaign has wobbled over allegations of fake jobs and free deluxe suits, was immediately blasted and mocked on social media and became the top story on French news sites.

His words immediately trended on Twitter where some pointed out that if he couldn’t sort out his own money then he shouldn’t be put in charge of the country’s.

Others were simply angered and accused him of being “disconnected from reality”.

“Shameful. When you know that most people in France are deprived of healthcare, food and leisure,” said one angry Tweeter.

While Fillon’s words may not have been the worst thing a politician has ever said the problem for the candidate is that his wealth is there for all to see, as most French newspapers were quick to point out.

As an MP in Paris he earns €7,200 a month and also has access to an extra €5,770 (tax free) to cover his costs.

On top of that Fillon opened his own consultancy company in 2012 called 2F Conseil which according to Le Monde newspaper pulled in €750,000 in three years.

In the declaration of his assets to the High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life Fillon was shown to have several bank accounts and life insurance policies worth around €100,000, according to Le Parisien.

READ ALSO: Take a closer look at François Fillon's manor in rural France

Take a closer look at François Fillon's manor in rural France

And those outraged by his words on Monday were quick to point out that the candidate lives in a chateau, which along with his other properties, are believed to be worth €750,000.

That’s not to mention the hundreds of thousands of euros his wife earned as a parliamentary assistant over the years.

According to France’s Observation of Inegalities Fillon’s monthly salary is better than 96 percent of all French workers.

Fillon’s words might not have caused such an uproar if it wasn’t for the fact that his plans to turn around France’s struggling economy are based on imposing harsh austerity.

Fillon wants to save €100 billion over five years as well as raise the retirement age, hike the legal working week from 35 to 39 hours and ditch 500,000 public service posts.

The candidate has suffered in the polls in recent weeks and trails behind Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, but he still believes he can overcome the odds and make the second round run-off vote.

Despite his troubles he still enjoys strong support among his base, who like Fillon, believe he is the victim of a media witch-hunt and a politically-motivated smear campaign.

They believe he has the best programme to turn France around.