In the first big rally of his re-election campaign, four days after announcing his candidacy, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has defended his economic record.

Although his country is facing rising unemployment and losing its AAA credit rating, Sarkozy insisted he helped country to avoid a catastrophe and a “crisis of confidence”.

His main rival, Socialist Francois Hollande, has accused Sarkozy of “giving in” to Germany, referring to the recent rapprochement between Paris and Berlin, as well as active campaigning on the part of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in favour of the incumbent president. Hollande challenged the president's statement that France is better off than its neighbours, explaining Germany is doing well, and slammed Sarkozy that running an economy that is doing better than Greece’s could hardly be regarded as an accomplishment.

Hollande's lead in the opinion polls is slowly narrowing as the election approaches, and currently stands at around six percentage points. He remains favourite to win, but with recent strong refusal of his policies by the centrist candidate Francois Bayrou, Hollande will have to rely on his socialist and communist base to secure victory in the second round.

Candidate of the National Front Marine Le Pen, who is ranking third in polls, but struggles to fulfil criteria for candidacy (500 signatures of elected officials in the entire country) attacked Sarkozy, saying that a notion of him as a people’s candidate is an “insult to the intelligence of the very same people”.

Attacks on Sarkozy from the far-right of the French political spectrum, combined with attacks on Hollande from the very centre could only benefit the incumbent president, giving him the an aura of a more mainstream candidate out of the two.

In addition, if rhetoric stays the same by the crunch-time votes on 22 April and 6 May, Sarkozy might be able to close the 6% gap completely and even win with the votes of (surprisingly) liberal mainstream citizens.