French election contenders wrap up campaigning

Friday is the last official day of campaigning for France's presidential candidates.

Story highlights

  • Analyst: Top candidates must convince voters they can turn the economy around
  • Friday is the last official day of campaigning before Sunday's French presidential election
  • President Nicolas Sarkozy will hold his final rally in the Mediterranean city of Nice
  • The economy and unemployment have been key issues in campaigning

France's presidential contenders are making their final appeal to voters Friday on the last day of campaigning before they go to the polls Sunday.

Opinion polls suggest incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy is trailing Socialist challenger François Hollande going into the first round of voting.

The economy and jobs have been key election issues, as France struggles to overcome low growth and a 10% unemployment rate.

Sarkozy, the flamboyant center-right politician who has led the country since 2007, is expected to hold his final campaign rally in the southeastern city of Nice on Friday evening.

Speaking to Le Figaro newspaper Thursday, Sarkozy said voters had a "crucial choice" to make for their country.

He pledged new strategies for economic growth and job creation, saying France was already seeing signs of recovery this year.

French candidates rally support online
French candidates rally support online


    French candidates rally support online


French candidates rally support online 03:06
French youth head to London
French youth head to London


    French youth head to London


French youth head to London 02:49
France's unhappy electorate
France's unhappy electorate


    France's unhappy electorate


France's unhappy electorate 02:55

Hollande, who held a rally outside Bordeaux on Thursday night, will be in the northern Haute-Marne and the Ardennes areas Friday.

The center-left candidate called for a European Central Bank rate cut in an interview Friday on French radio station Europe 1.

"There are two ways we can go. The first is to lower interest rates if we indeed believe this is a way to support growth. And I believe it is, and that the European Central Bank should go in that direction," Hollande said.

"There is a second way which would be to lend directly to states themselves, rather than the chosen path, which has been to support the banks."

Hollande said that although Germany, Europe's largest economy, might oppose the idea, it should be part of the discussion.

Asked if, as president, he would participate in a U.N.-led military intervention in Syria, he said: "Yes, if it is at the request of the United Nations, we would participate in this intervention."

Sarkozy, who has been vocal on the international stage, told Europe 1 on Thursday that France was at the center of diplomatic efforts to put pressure on Syria over its crackdown on opposition.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top diplomats met Thursday in Paris for talks on Syria.

"As with Libya, it is France that's behind this meeting, it is France that is behind this tough stance on Syria. If we hadn't set up this meeting, then it would be like giving (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad carte blanche (to act)," Sarkozy said.

In an interview Friday with CNN affiliate BFM-TV, Juppe suggested Hollande was jumping on the bandwagon with regard to Syria.

"The problem with François Hollande is that in matters of foreign affairs, he is always running behind the train," he said.

"France's position has long been known; we will participate in military operations under a U.N. mandate, but when all is said and done, France is not a spectator at the United Nations, it doesn't wait for U.N. decisions; it is a player, it creates solutions and all that's around them, as we have been doing now for weeks and weeks."

The latest survey from CSA for BFM-TV, published Friday, gives Hollande 28% of the vote in the first round to 25% for Sarkozy.

If no candidate wins an absolute majority, a runoff election between the two with the most votes will take place May 6.

A second round matchup between the two front-runners would see Hollande extend his lead to 57% support, compared with 43% for Sarkozy, the survey suggests.

Three other candidates make it into double digits in polling ahead of the first-round vote: Jean-Luc Melenchon on the extreme left, Marine Le Pen on the extreme right and Francois Bayrou, a centrist.

Bayrou will be in the Annecy region Friday. Le Pen's last rally was Wednesday in Paris, while Melenchon staged his final rally a day later, also in the capital.

The 10 candidates in the race are not allowed to campaign on the day before the vote.

Thomas Misrachi, a senior reporter for BFM-TV, said that whoever wins will face a tough challenge to turn around the economy.

Both Sarkozy and Hollande want to increase taxes and cut spending, he told CNN, but it remains to be seen whether either can get the economy growing again.

"The deficit has doubled, and the unemployment rate is very high," he said.

"The feeling is that Nicolas Sarkozy has failed on the economic front, and that is one of the biggest problems here because he cannot convince (voters) that he will do in the next five years the job that he hasn't been able to do in the past five years," Misrachi said.

While Sarkozy has blamed the international financial crisis for France's economic woes, critics point to Germany's stronger performance and ask whether he could have done better, Misrachi said.

France and Germany have been at the heart of the drive to keep the European single currency sound and Europe on course.

Both Sarkozy and Hollande are committed Europeans, but if either has to turn to the far-right or far-left for help in winning the second round of the election, it could have an impact on his policies.