* Final campaigning day before first round sees rivals spar
* Sarkozy blasts rival for inexperience, says euro safe
* Socialist Hollande blames public finances on incumbent
By Alexandria Sage
PARIS, April 20 France's presidential rivals
clashed over the euro crisis in final exchanges before Sunday's
first round of an election in which most polls show Socialist
Francois Hollande pulling further ahead of unpopular
conservative Nicolas Sarkozy.
In separate radio interviews on Friday, President Sarkozy
said he had helped steer the euro zone through the worst of its
debt crisis, making him the safest pair of hands, while the
challenger Hollande blamed his adversary for mismanaging
France's strained public finances.
The risk premium investors charge for holding French 10-year
bonds rather than safe haven German Bunds rose above 1.50
percentage points on in a possible foretaste of market jitters
about a left-wing government in Paris.
"The risk of the euro imploding doesn't exist anymore,"
Sarkozy told RTL radio, as the last opinion polls before
campaigning for the first round ends at midnight on Friday
showed him sinking further behind Hollande.
"Europe is convalescent. That's a reality. We can't afford
any mistakes. The minute we ease up on cutting spending,
reducing the deficit, reducing the debt, France will share the
fate of Spain," Sarkozy said, contrasting his time dealing with
the crisis with Hollande's relative lack of experience.
"For 10 years he was head of the Socialist party. He wasn't
the head of very much. That's the truth," he said.
Spain's economy is weighed down by debt and its government
is struggling to convince lenders it can remain solvent.
Sarkozy, who is being punished for economic gloom, high
unemployment and an impulsive presidential style that grates on
many voters, could lose by between 7 and 14 points in a May 6
runoff against Hollande, according to the latest polls.
Hollande told Europe 1 radio that France's budget woes were
the result of five years of Sarkozy's policies, and called for
European action to revive growth to fight the debt crisis.
"The important thing is to put our public finances in order.
They've been turned completely upside down these past years due
to irresponsible fiscal policy and the crisis," Hollande said.
He called for the European Central Bank to take a radically
different role by lending directly to troubled euro zone states
rather than to banks, and by keeping interest rates low. But he
acknowledged Germany was dead against expanding the ECB's role.
Financial markets worry that Hollande's focus on higher
taxes rather than public spending cuts, and his intention to
raise taxation on the financial sector, could lead to higher
French bond yields and spur volatility in stock markets.
Firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, the surprise of the
campaign who has soared from obscurity to vie for third place
with around 14 percent in first-round polls, vowed to exert
strong influence from outside on any Hollande-led government.
Addressing a final rally in Paris which organisers said
attracted 60,000, he declared: "I appeal to you, left-wing
comrades who are listening and hesitating, come and help us not
just overtake the extreme-right but raise the demands of the
The rally ended with a clench-fisted Melenchon joining hands
with leaders of the Communist Party and his Left Front and
vowing to remain united as they sang the Internationale, the
anthem of socialist movements worldwide.
A swathe of final polls published on Friday mostly showed
Sarkozy's support eroding while Hollande's backing held steady.
An Ipsos survey showed Sarkozy down 1.5 points on 25.5
percent in the first round, with Hollande on 29. A Harris
Interactive poll put Sarkozy at 26.5 percent to Hollande's 27.5.
All showed the Socialist far ahead of the incumbent in
voting intentions for the decisive second-round runoff, with a
lead of between 7 and 14 percentage points.
The two mainstream candidates are well ahead of far-right
leader Marine Le Pen, with 14-16 percent, Melenchon around 14
and centrist Francois Bayrou, about 10 percent. Five other
fringe candidates trail further behind.
Sarkozy and Hollande are set to resume their duel on Monday
with a series of campaign rallies. Their only face-to-face
television debate is set for May 2.
Only one pollster, TNS, put the rivals neck-and-neck on 27
percent in its final first-round poll on Friday.
Sarkozy has hammered on immigration, security and trade
protectionism to try to win back voters from Le Pen while at the
same time starting to court the centrists he will need from next
week to have any hope of catching up with Hollande by May 6.
The Socialist's calls to renegotiate a European budget
discipline pact to add pro-growth clauses has rattled investors
as market fears have resurfaced over the debt crisis, focusing
chiefly on Spain.
Sarkozy raised hackles himself among euro zone partners this
week by pressing for the ECB to take a more active role in
encouraging growth by letting the currency depreciate, although
both he and Hollande deny they want to alter its single mandate
of ensuring price stability.