France is stuck in a major rut.
Europe’s third biggest economyhas suffered years of anemic growth, high unemployment and budget deficits, while neighbors such as Germany and the U.K. have enjoyed a stronger recovery from the global financial crisis.
The country’s economic malaise is a major issue in presidential elections scheduled for Sunday.
The contest has become a four-way race between candidates from across the political spectrum. Two of the front runners — far right politician Marine Le Pen and socialist Jean-Luc Melenchon — have radical ideas on how to improve the economy.
Both candidates oppose free trade agreements and are highly critical of the euro.
“The lackluster growth and high unemployment of recent years are fertile ground for the populist and eurosceptic Marine Le Pen,” said Jessica Hinds, European economist at Capital Economics.
The two candidates with the biggest share of Sunday’s vote will advance to a runoff scheduled for May 7. But will they have the right prescription to cure France?
After years of slow growth, the country’s GDP figures are finally turning higher. But they remain at very low levels.
The French economy expanded by 1.2% in 2016, according to the International Monetary Fund. The two larger economies in Europe — Germany and the U.K. — posted growth of 1.8% over the same period.
The IMF predicts growth of just 1.4% for France in 2017, one of the weakest rates in the EU.
France is also struggling to bring down its unemployment rate, which stands at roughly 10%. That’s higher than the eurozone average and more than double the level of joblessness in Germany and Britain.
The unemployment problem is even worse for young people: 24% of those between the ages of 15 and 24 don’t have a job.
Government debt, meanwhile, has ballooned to almost 90% of GDP, up from just 58% a decade ago.
There are a few bright spots, however. France has relatively low income inequality and fewer of its citizens are at risk of poverty than in Germany or the U.K.
The percentage of GDP that the government spends on social programs and welfare is much higher in France than other major economies.
The generous welfare system has led to higher budget deficits, however, and the French healthcare system is in desperate need of more cash. The IMF has called for economic reforms to bring public spending under control.