PARIS French conservative Francois Fillon criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her refugee policies in a televised presidential debate on Monday, saying her management of the migration crisis had caused huge problems for Europe.
"I completely disagree with Emmanuel Macron who praised the German chancellor when he was in Berlin for (refugee) policies that turned out to be bad policies and which are now criticized by her own allies in Germany," Fillon said in a slap at his centrist rival.
"The way this crisis was handled has created an enormous problem for Europe," Fillon added.
Fillon has seen his support slide since being accused of using hundreds of thousands of euros in public money to pay his wife for work she may have not done.
Polls show him trailing Macron, a former economy minister who is running as an independent, and Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front, and failing to make it into the second round runoff.
Fillon belongs to the same conservative party family as Merkel but has not shied away from criticizing her on a range of issues.
When he visited Berlin in late January, Fillon called the economic sanctions imposed on Moscow in response to its intervention in Ukraine "totally ineffective". Merkel was the driving force behind those sanctions.
Macron met with Merkel last week and stressed the need to work with Germany rather than succumb to the temptation to criticize France's larger neighbor in an election campaign.
The meeting in Berlin was a coup for Macron and a sign that the Germans now see him as the candidate with the best chance to beat Le Pen.
(Reporting by Noah Barkin and Simon Carraud; Editing by Ingrid Melander)