French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist challenger Francois Hollande clashed in the only televised debate before Sunday's vote in what is seen as the incumbent's last chance to turn the odds of re-election in his favour.
If elected, Mr Hollande - who is leading opinion polls by six to 10 points - will raise taxes on the rich and lower the retirement age back to 60 but his possible clash with Germany over austerity measures is the real talking point.
Mr Sarkozy criticised his rival's economic plans, saying "not one other country in the world has chosen your way to growth."
The Socialist leader appeared to be relaxed in the opening exchanges, saying he aimed to be "the president of justice", "the president of revival" and "the president of unity".
He said Sarkozy, in office for the last five years, had divided the French people for too long and was using the global economic crisis as an excuse for broken promises.
The debate was carried live on channels that reach roughly half France's 44.5 million voters.