Francois Hollande would destroy France's economic strengths "within two days" and turn the country into Greece or Spain, Nicolas Sarkozy claimed yesterday, as he finally unveiled his manifesto for the presidential elections.
Just 17 days before the first round of voting, Mr Sarkozy said France faced a "historic choice" between his austerity measures or uncontrolled spending that would bring the country to its knees.
"Certain countries in Europe are today on the edge of a precipice," he said, accusing Mr Hollande, his Socialist challenger, of promising "a festival of new spending that no one knows how to pay for, as if the world did not exist, Europe did not exist, the crisis did not exist".
Polls suggest that the two front-runners are tied in the first round, but Mr Hollande is forecast to become the first Socialist president for 17 years in the run-off on May 6.
"The situation today that our Spanish friends are going through, that our Greek friends have gone through, reminds us of reality. Look at the situation in Spain, after seven years of Socialist rule," Mr Sarkozy said.
He promised to balance the budget by 2016 and continue reducing the size of the French state. "We cannot refuse to make the historic choice of competitiveness, innovation and reducing public spending."
He also confirmed his commitment to freezing France's contribution to the European Union's common budget -- a measure Britain and seven other EU nations back -- which he said would save €600m a year.
Mr Hollande published his presidential plan in January and on Wednesday detailed the calendar for his first year in office. Measures included capping fuel prices, introducing a 75pc supertax on high earners, and partially reversing a pension reform.
Seeking to reassure the French and markets that he would not go on a spending spree, he promised to order the Court of Auditors to "carry out an evaluation immediately ... and freeze certain spending once we have the results".
But Mr Sarkozy claimed that it would take "two days to knock down five years of (economic) efforts" if the Socialist won. (© Daily Telegraph, London)