France's President and UMP party candidate for the 2012 French presidential elections, Nicolas Sarkozy
President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to achieve a budget surplus for the first time since 1974 and cut France's swelling debt if re-elected on May 6, warning that his Socialist rival would lead the country towards the fate of Greece or Spain.
Presenting an austere manifesto less than three weeks before the first round of voting on April 22, Sarkozy said he would put a "golden rule" to parliament in July committing France to balance its budget as promised to its European partners, reports Reuters.
"Some countries in Europe are on the edge of a precipice today. We cannot refuse to make the historic choice of competitiveness, innovation and reducing public spending," said the conservative incumbent, who trails Socialist Francois Hollande in all polls for the decisive run-off.
"To depart even slightly from the commitments France has made would mean a crisis of confidence," he said, adding that recent events had shown that countries could go bankrupt and face mass unemployment.
Sarkozy, who presided over an explosion of the debt and deficit after the 2008 financial crisis, said his programme would generate a budget surplus of 0.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2017 after achieving balance in 2016, and public debt would fall to 80.6 percent from a peak of 89.4 percent in 2013.
He said he was sending out a 36-page letter to the French people, setting out his promises in writing. The aim was to reconcile supporters and opponents of European integration and winners and losers of globalisation.
Sarkozy also called for a mass rally of the "silent majority" to support him on Paris' central Place de la Concorde on April 15 - a week before the first ballot.
He seemed to be trying to emulate hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who has stormed to third place in some opinion polls after leading a march of tens of thousands of leftists to "retake the Bastille" last month, symbolically re-enacting one of the high points of the 1789 French Revolution.
Hollande said he would order an audit of public finances if elected, a day after he set out his own 60-day programme of the first emergency economic measures.
"We'll have the Court of Auditors carry out an evaluation immediately ... and freeze certain spending once we have the results," Hollande said in an interview on Canal+ television.