President Nicolas Sarkozy set out "shock measures" last night designed to show he has the "courage" needed to reinvigorate France's economy three months ahead of elections.
Defending his efforts to save the euro and the French economy, Mr Sarkozy said: "The financial crisis is calming down. Europe is no longer on the edge of the abyss. The elements of a stabilisation of the financial situation . . . are in place."
Mr Sarkozy all but announced his candidacy for the two-round election, due to be held on April 22 and May 6. "I will not shirk my responsibility," he said.
His remarks came a day after Chancellor Angela Merkel offered her support by unexpectedly announcing that she would join him on the campaign trail.
In an hour-long "do or die" TV interview broadcast simultaneously by nine channels, Mr Sarkozy adopted Churchillian tones as he unveiled measures from reducing working time and salaries to save jobs to raising VAT in order to cut employers' contributions by €13bn.
But the man who staked his presidency on boosting the French economy faces a tough task as he lags in the polls, unemployment stands at a 12-year high and public debt is at record levels.
As aides warned that the measures could provoke "street protests", Mr Sarkozy appears to think he can win the begrudging praise of the electorate.
He spent most of his airtime demonstrating that he intended to fight for France's economic future until the last moment before entering the election.
Mr Sarkozy has been on the back foot since France lost its coveted triple-A credit rating, undermining his claim to having the safest pair of hands to steer the country clear of economic ruin.