Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande took to the airwaves on Monday evening to denounce the latest austerity drive announced by the government, at the same time as the prime minister spoke on a rival channel.
Prime Minister François Fillon was defending the new plan on the 8pm news programme on TV channel TF1 while Hollande appeared on the France 2 bulletin.
In the plan announced on Monday, the government said it hoped to balance its budget by 2016 by saving €100 billion ($138 billion) overall.
A package of measures to save €7 billion in 2012 was announced, including raising the Value Added Tax (VAT) rate from 5.5 percent to 7 percent and a temporary increase in corporation tax for larger companies.
Fillon also announced that plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 will be brought forward from 2018 to 2017.
The prime minister defended his plans on Monday evening as "just" and "necessary."
"Not many governments, just a few months from elections, would have the courage to take the measures we've decided to take," he said.
"We've done it because we believe it is our duty to protect the French people from the very serious dangers that are faced by many European countries that did not take the necessary decisions in time."
Socialist François Hollande claimed the plans were "incoherent, unjust and inconsequential" and said they were an "acknowledgement of failure" on the part of the prime minister and President Sarkozy.
"There is a crisis, I don't deny that, but there's also revenue that's been lost with the €75 million tax gifts handed out by Nicolas Sarkozy," he said.
Monday's announcement also included a freeze on the salaries of the president, prime minister and other ministers. Hollande said he would go one step further by "reducing by 30 percent the salary of the president and his ministers."
The measures announced received widespread support in the president's own UMP party, but other opposition politicians were critical.
Jean-François Copé, general secretary of the UMP, called the plans "courageous" while centrist François Bayrou said they "lacked justice."
"The Sarkozy government has struck a new violent blow against the purchasing power of the French," said far right Front National leader Marine Le Pen.
"By pushing the French towards economic and social agony we are building towards the fall of the country and the explosion of the debt."
Clips of François Hollande and François Fillon on Monday evening's news bulletins.