Speculation grew on Monday (February 13) as France expected President Nicolas Sarkozy to finally launch himself into the presidential race this week.
There have been numerous signs in the past few weeks that Sarkozy will stand for re-election but his candidacy had yet to be announced by the man himself.
He set the stage this week with an interview with conservative-leaning Le Figaro magazine in which he pledged to overhaul the education system and make the jobless work for their benefits.
He also sounded a tough note on immigration, saying he would tighten procedures for asylum seekers and for foreigners accessing housing and benefits.
Sarkozy laid his campaign track in a New Year address that set the way for a sudden rush of activity to cut company payroll taxes, create a financial transactions tax and loosen the 35-hour week law - a new focus on export markets over domestic spending that opponents say is too late to be convincing.
While he has criss-crossed France since then to be photographed with overalled workers, his UMP party has pushed through legislation outlawing genocide denial, seen aimed at courting the votes of half a million ethnic Armenians in France.
He has enlisted the support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is highly rated in France and plans to join him at political meetings ahead of the election as head of her conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) party.
His task now is to get his personal message right.
But little over two months before first round elections, reactions on the street were mixed on the presidential campaign:
"I think many French were disappointed by him. I'm unemployed and looking for work, that's why I'm dressed like this, I started work when I was 18, I've been working for 7 years and I have now been unemployed since October. That's not normal, it's not normal," said William who was actively looking for work.
"We know that everything is decided in the last three months of the campaign and we could easily see voters change their mind," said Jean-Andre Degrotte referring to Sarkozy's poor opinion polls ratings.
"I don't think that the choices that were made were bad ones but today I don't understand. It's contrary to the conception I have of life at work, I think that the nation is like a wider scale company but it is the same principle, when you have difficult periods one needs to motivate everyone and I don't think that's what being done," said Philippe Brancaleone about recent tough measures to cut state spending.
Now rated France's most unpopular president, Sarkozy trails Socialist Francois Hollande in opinion polls for an April-May election at a critical moment for Europe.
Sarkozy will struggle to recover in time for a vote whose outcome may well influence economic reform in France and across the euro area.
Aides say when he launches his campaign in the next few days Sarkozy will apologise for failing to keep pledges derailed by the debt crisis but insist he is the best person to revive the French economy.
He will champion reforms to boost competitiveness and slim the welfare state.
That may not be enough to overcome a visceral dislike of Sarkozy among many voters, even in his own conservative camp, an issue that weighs on him, members of his inner circle say.
published on 13/02/2012
Sarkozy poised to announce presidential candidacy
Sarkozy poised to announce presidential candidacy. (Reuters)