He may not have named the date, but French president Nicolas Sarkozy has made clear it is no longer a question of if he will stand for re-election – if it ever was – but when. After weeks of rumours and teasing, the French leader is expected officially to announce his candidacy for the April-May presidential election in the next few days. Sarkozy, 57, had initially led the country to believe he would declare he was standing for a second term close to the 16 March deadline before embarking on a short, sharp. "lightning" election campaign. But with his socialist rival François Hollande well into his campaign and pulling ahead in the opinion polls, the president has been left with little choice but to declare earlier than planned. In an interview with Le Figaro newspaper, Sarkozy outlined the hardline ground on which he will fight for his political future: immigration, work and the welfare state. Sarkozy hopes that by wooing supporters of the far-right Front National he can overcome widespread discontent and profound personal unpopularity to win the two-round vote and stay in the Elysée Palace. Among the more populist planks of his manifesto is a threat to withdraw welfare benefits from the unemployed if they refuse a job and, in a move that appeared to surprise even his own advisers, he also warned he would risk invoking a referendum if the unions blocked the reform.