Fresh from clinching a deal on the euro, French president Nicolas Sarkozy sought to convince voters on Thursday he was best-placed to steer the country ahead of a tough election fight next year.

"/> Fresh from clinching a deal on the euro, French president Nicolas Sarkozy sought to convince voters on Thursday he was best-placed to steer the country ahead of a tough election fight next year.

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Sarkozy woos voters after euro deal

Fresh from clinching a deal on the euro, French president Nicolas Sarkozy sought to convince voters on Thursday he was best-placed to steer the country ahead of a tough election fight next year.

Sarkozy woos voters after euro deal
TF1 Screenshot

Speaking in a rare national television interview, Sarkozy said he and other European leaders had avoided a global “catastrophe” by agreeing a deal to tackle the eurozone’s debt crisis.

Trailing his Socialist rival François Hollande in the polls ahead of an election due next spring, Sarkozy also lauded his administration’s economic record, despite having to admit the government was lowering its 2012 growth forecast.

“If the euro had exploded last night, all of Europe would have exploded,” Sarkozy said.

“If Greece had defaulted, there would have been a domino effect carrying everyone away,” he said. “If there had not been an agreement last night, it was not just Europe that would have sunk into catastrophe, it was the whole world.”

Sarkozy was speaking after European leaders clinched a deal that will address the debt mountain in Greece, cutting it by €100 billion ($142 billion) in an agreement between the eurozone and private creditor banks which will take a 50 percent loss on their holdings.

Ahead of an election set to be dominated by the economy, Sarkozy was forced to admit that the government had lowered its growth forecast for next year from 1.75 percent to 1.0 percent.

He warned that the government would soon be announcing extra measures to make up for a budget shortfall of between six and eight billion euros but, sticking with his centre-right policies, said the measures would focus on boosting competitiveness.

“The key is growth and jobs,” he said, adding that he opposed a general increase in France’s value-added tax because it would “weigh on the purchasing power of the French people.”

He praised his government’s prudent economic policies, in particular pension reforms, saying the reform “had protected France and protected the French people”.

Hollande had earlier hit out at Sarkozy over the eurozone agreement.

“An agreement… was necessary, from this point of view the worst was avoided. But several points seem inadequate, both on the financial and the economic level,” Hollande said in a statement.

“Why wait so long to finally take measures equal to the stakes, if not to protect a banking sector that should have been called on to sacrifice far earlier,” he said, also hitting out at the eurozone’s decision to turn to Chinese capital for help.

Sarkozy, elected in 2007, is facing a tough challenge on the left from Hollande, whose profile was boosted this month by the Socialists’ unprecedented US-style primary, which drew 2.8 million voters to the polls in its final round and won widespread media coverage.

An opinion poll released after the Socialist primary showed Hollande crushing Sarkozy with 64 percent to 36 percent of the vote in the run-off of a presidential election.

France is to vote in a presidential election next April and, if as expected no candidate wins a first-round majority, in a second round in May.

Though widely expected to run, Sarkozy has yet to officially declare his candidacy and was coy when asked about it on Thursday.

“The debate on the question of my candidacy will be settled at the end of January or early February,” he said, adding that to declare his candidacy too soon would distract him from governing the country.

“I have made my choice, to be president up until the last minute,” Sarkozy said.

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Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée

Right-wing candidates for the French presidential election face off in the first round of a US-style primary on Sunday with former president Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-prime minister Alain Juppe fighting to avoid being knocked out by an outsider.

Leaders Sarkozy and Juppé stumble in race for Elysée
Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: AFP

In a contest overshadowed by the election of Donald Trump in the United States, support for the early favourite Juppe has slipped and Francois Fillon, who served as prime minister under Sarkozy, has risen fast.

The right-wing nominating contest is crucial because with the French left divided, the winner is expected to go on to take the presidency in May, beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the runoff.

Juppe, 71, entered the two-month-long contest with polls showing him to be France's most popular politician, but his approach of playing the moderate against the fiery Sarkozy and the conservative Fillon appears to be backfiring.

Most polls now show Juppe and Sarkozy are neck-and-neck at around 30 percent, with Fillon close behind after making striking progress in recent weeks.

The two winners on Sunday will go through to the second round run-off a week later.

Two becomes three

“We were expecting a duel but in the end a three-way contest has emerged,” political scientist Jerome Jaffre said in Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday.

Many have noted that 62-year-old Fillon's rise had coincided with the publication of his latest book entitled “Beating Islamic totalitarianism”.

An often confused final TV debate of the seven candidates on Thursday offered few clues about the possible outcome, although viewers polled afterwards said Fillon had performed the strongest.

Sparks flew when Sarkozy was asked about fresh claims that he received millions in funding from the late Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi towards his 2007 campaign.

Sarkozy called the question “disgraceful” and refused to answer.

Turning to the Trump effect, the former president said a more isolationist America created “a fantastic opportunity for France and Europe to re-establish a leadership role” on issues including border security and the reform of the UN Security Council.

“The next five years will mark the return of France and Europe to the international scene. America won't be there to put us in the shade,” he said.

Juppe meanwhile said the Trump-era heralded a triple “shock” — in the areas of trade, defence and the environment.

A return to protectionism would be “a tremendous regression”, Juppe said, while warning Europe against being “naive” in its dealings with the United States.

The three leading candidates have similar programmes, underpinned by pledges to reinforce domestic security in a country still under a state of emergency following a series of jihadist attacks.

They also share a desire to reinforce European borders and reduce immigration, while tax cuts also loom large.

The choice will come down to style.

Sarkozy has emphasised his tough-guy credentials, saying it makes him a better choice to handle Trump than the mild-mannered Juppe.

Fillon, who is popular in the business world, has promised “radical” economic measures but is the most conservative of the three on social issues.

Another unknown factor in Sunday's first round is the number of left-wing voters prepared to pay two euros and sign a declaration that they subscribe to “the values of the centre and the right” to vote in the right-wing primary.

Those who do are expected to vote against 61-year-old Sarkozy, who remains a highly divisive figure in France four years after he left office.

When the right-wing candidate is chosen on November 27, it is expected to trigger an announcement from deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande on whether he intends to bid for re-election.

On Wednesday, Hollande's former economy minister Emmanuel Macron announced he would stand as an independent.

by AFP's Guy Jackson