France's Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has declared his intention to run for the presidency next April.
Mr Sarkozy is seen as one of the favourites to get the top job
The announcement had been widely expected, and Mr Sarkozy is the favourite to win the election, according to recent opinion polls.
His centre-right UMP party is due to select its candidate in January and President Jacques Chirac is not expected to seek a third term.
Whoever wins the UMP's race will face the Socialist Party's Segolene Royal.
"I feel I have the strength, the energy and the desire to propose a different view of France," Mr Sarkozy said in an interview to be published in a number of regional newspapers on Thursday.
"I have the ambition to develop a new relationship with the French based on two words: confidence and respect. Confidence in pledges made and respect for every Frenchman considered individually."
A new approach
Both Mr Sarkozy and Ms Royal have promised to reverse what many people see as a feeling of decline in France.
Mr Sarkozy has been dubbed the French Margaret Thatcher, someone who will shake up the country, says the BBC's Clive Myrie, in Paris.
For many people France has been in the doldrums during the Chirac years, our correspondent says, with a stuttering economy and diminishing stature in Europe and the world.
Mr Sarkozy will offer UMP members an alternative to candidates from the Chirac wing of the party - people like Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, or Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie.
Ms Royal has said she wants to write a new page in French history
He is thought to have the backing of about 75% of the UMP's membership, which stands at about 300,000.
Both Mr Sarkozy and Ms Royal are in their fifties. Whoever wins the election, set for 22 April, will become the first president of France born after World War II.
The election campaign will officially get under way on 9 April.
President Chirac's five-year term expires in mid-May. He is not expected to run for a third term.