Nicolas Sarkozy warned French voters Thursday they should re-elect him as president to pursue his cost-cutting plans or face the kind of debt crises that have gripped Greece and Spain.
Speaking at the launch of his manifesto, just 17 days before the first round of voting, Sarkozy said France faced a "historic choice" between his austerity measures or a disastrous return to uncontrolled spending.
"Certain countries in Europe are today on the edge of a precipice," he warned, promising that under his continued leadership France could rediscover "competitiveness, innovation, investment, reduced spending."
Sarkozy accused his Socialist challenger Francois Hollande of promising "a festival of new spending that no-one knows how to pay for, as if the world did not exist, Europe did not exist, the crisis did not exist.
"The situation today that our Spanish friends are going through, that our Greek friends have gone through, reminds us of reality. Look at the situation in Spain, after seven years of Socialist rule," he said.
Spain's budget minister admitted this week that Madrid is in a "critical situation" as government debt and unemployment surge higher -- mirroring the problems that led Greece to seek an EU and IMF bail-out last year.
Hollande responded with scorn, declaring the manifesto launch contained no ideas that had not been floated before, and arguing that it demonstrated that Sarkozy "has nothing to offer but austerity".
"It's a extension of his mistakes and failures. He planned a great event, then nothing came of it. All the measures he picked out, we'd heard before. It's like his record in office, but worse," said Hollande.
Sarkozy said he had printed millions of copies of a "Letter to the French" outlining their stark choice in the run-up to April 22 and the May 6 run-off, along with millions of copies of his detailed spending plan.
Polls put the frontrunners neck-and-neck in the first round but forecast Hollande will win the May 6 run-off, ending the Socialists' 17-year losing streak and consigning the incumbent to history as a one-term president.
Sarkozy plans to increase sales tax from 19.6 to 21.2 percent, reduce payroll charges on employers, restrict legal immigration, reform professional training, tax exiles and balance the budget by 2016.
Sarkozy also confirmed that he will continue to reduce the size of the French state, principally by not replacing all retiring civil servants, and save 115 billion euros ($150 billion) through cuts and tax rises.
At the launch, he said he would ask the European Union to freeze France's contribution to its common budget, a measure which he said would save 600 million euros, but would not seek to renegotiate the EU fiscal pact.
And he promised to pass the so-called "Golden Rule" -- which obliges governments to have a plan to balance their books -- within months of his re-election, and to reduce France's deficit to zero by 2016.
Hollande had previously published his own 60-point plan and backed it up this week with a detailed legislative calendar for his first year in office, which he expects to begin with a parliamentary election win in June.