French election: François Hollande favourite as voters go to the polls [View all]
Voting has begun in the French presidential election, a ballot which could transform the political colours of France and spark a change in Europe's approach to its debt crisis and austerity measures.
All polls for months have shown the Socialist party candidate, François Hollande, beating the rightwing Nicolas Sarkozy, the most unpopular French president ever to run for re-election. The left is hoping for its first Socialist president since François Mitterrand's re-election in 1988, which would be a rare event in a Europe that has swung to the right in recent years and weakened the left.
If Sarkozy is defeated after one term in office, he would become the 11th European leader to be swept from power since the economic crisis. Hollande has promised to renegotiate Europe's fiscal pact on austerity and shift the focus to growth measures.
Sarkozy has remained defiant, claiming that the polls were mistaken, predicting a higher-than-expected turnout that would play in his favour. In the final days of campaigning, he suggested the poll could be so tight that there may need to be a recount, comparing it to George W Bush's win in 2000 after a Florida recount.