The French government has presented a tough 2012 austerity budget, promising to balance public finances but warning that euro zone debt "turbulence" could yet de-rail timid growth.
France's public deficit will reach 5.7% of gross domestic product this year, before dropping to 4.5% in 2012 and then to the EU limit of 3% in 2013.
For the first time, the government also undertook to bring the deficit down to 1% in 2015 as it seeks to put the public finances in order with barely seven months to go before a presidential election.
France's total, accumulated debt will, however, be higher than previously expected, largely because of its contribution to rescue funds for bailed-out euro zone countries such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland.
Already expected to reach a record 85.5% of GDP this year, accumulated debt will hit 87.4% in 2012, half a percentage point higher than the previous estimate. Debt will be 87.3% of GDP in 2013 before dropping to 86.2% in 2014 and 84.1% in 2015 - leaving it still well above the EU ceiling of 60%.
Finance Minister Francois Baroin said the objective of debt reduction was "inviolable," while Budget Minister Valerie Pecresse warned that "we are being scrutinised" by the global financial markets.
France has already revised down its growth forecast for this year and 2012 to 1.75%, although many experts believe that figure still to be over-optimistic.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing government admitted that only "a dissipation of current turbulence will allow us to reach 1.75% growth in 2012," leaving the door open for a further revision downward.
Volatility caused by "bad news" over the summer, including the slowing of the US economy and market tensions due to the euro zone sovereign debt crisis, could increase consumer and business caution, the government said.
The tax burden is set to rise to 44.5% of GDP next year from the 43.2% in last year's budget, and reach a record 45.4% of GDP in 2015 - above the level when Sarkozy took office in 2007. Sarkozy had then made an election pledge to reduce the tax burden by four percentage points.
France's national statistics office said today that the economy stagnated in the second quarter with zero growth.
World markets have been rocked by rumours that France might be stripped of its top triple-A credit rating and that its banks were overexposed to the debts of weaker euro zone countries, especially Greece.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon on August 24 unveiled a €12 billion deficit-cutting package that raised taxes on the rich and closed tax loopholes in the hope of preserving the envied rating.
France is hoping to reduce the costs of overseas operations in countries such as Afghanistan, where it is to start withdrawing its troops. The government is also to create a one-off tax on the turnover of large companies that are subject to carbon dioxide quotas, as called for by EU rules, with the measure set to bring in around €200m.
The proposed budget now goes to the National Assembly and the Senate, where the debate is expected to be particularly heated after the opposition won control of the upper house of parliament last weekend.