France was set to release its latest unemployment data on Thursday amid growing scepticism that President François Hollande will meet his promise to reverse rising joblessness by the end of the year.
Much has been made in France of Hollande's pledge to reverse the trend by the end December 2013 but on the day the figures are due to be published he appeard to wobble and looked like he was laying the groundwork for eventually backing down.
"The battle against unemployment will take as long as is necessary," said the beleagured head of state, who is permanently under pressure with weekly polls suggesting he is the most unpopular president in history.
"The battle is underway. It will be played out month by month. We must work unceasingly. What matters is that we alter the trend. Unemployment must stop rising,” Hollande said.
His words were seized upon by the French press, ready to chart the next stage in Hollande's, so far, miserable term in office.
The minor furore prompted Holande to backtrack somewhat later telling AFP during the visit he was "convinced" unemployment would stop rising by the end of the year.
"From the fight to reverse the rise in unemployment, we must move on to the fight for a continuing decline in the number of unemployed, and intensify it," he said.
The French labour ministry was set to release data on the number of registered jobseekers in October later Thursday, after the figure rose to a record 3.29 million in September.
Hollande and his government have repeatedly promised to reverse the rise by the end of the year despite the stagnation of the French economy, which shrunk by 0.1 percent in the third quarter.
Hollande is under fierce pressure to tackle unemployment, with polls showing his approval ratings the lowest of any president in modern French history.
But economists and other experts have said there is little chance unemployment will stop rising without sustained economic growth.
"I was always more than sceptical of this commitment," said Jean-Claude Mailly, the head of the FO union.
"When you have sluggish growth and you see an accumulation of restructuring plans, a rise in redundancies, this is a gamble that is more than difficult to win," he said.