Continued from page 1

When Mr. Sarkozy won office in 2007, he pledged to implement reform and make the economy more competitive. After a few initiatives, notably raising France’s retirement age by two years to 62, the reforms failed to materialize.

France, the Eurozone’s second-largest economy, currently has an unemployment rate of about 10 percent and a public debt of close to 90 percent of gross domestic product.

Mr. Hollande wants to raise the minimum wage, increase taxes on high earners and focus on growth, not just austerity measures.

That has worried European leaders, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She and Mr. Sarkozy crafted a new treaty late last year that implements closer financial discipline on the 17 countries that use the euro. Together, they have pushed for wider and deeper austerity measures to ease Europe’s debt crisis.

Voters backing fringe candidates said they hoped to influence the front-runners.

“I [wanted] Jean-Luc Melenchon to score high so that this will force the likely president, Francois Hollande, to keep his policies on the left as much as possible,” said Florian Samson, who came to vote in a northwestern Paris district with his wife and baby daughter.

Jabeen Bhatti contributed to this report from Berlin.