PARIS- France should rein in its public finances faster than currently planned starting from next year, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday, less than three months before a presidential election.

The French government is currently expecting a public sector budget deficit of 5% of economic output this year and plans to reduce the fiscal shortfall to within the European Union's deficit ceiling of 3% by 2027.

In an annual report on France, the IMF recommended putting the public finances on a path that would bring them within the ceiling by 2025 and called on the government to "rebuild fiscal buffers through a large, but gradual and sustained, fiscal adjustment beginning in 2023".

In particular, it said the focus should be on reining in spending with the aim of cutting the deficit to 2% of GDP by 2026, which it described as "politically feasible".

With public spending among the highest in the world, successive French governments have had limited success keeping expenditure growth down.

The public finances, which were stretched thin during the pandemic to support the economy, are attracting little scrutiny ahead of April's two-round presidential election.

President Emmanuel Macron, who is widely expected to run for a second term, has benefited from last year's particularly strong economic rebound, which helped reduce the deficit more than expected.

The IMF estimated on Wednesday that the euro zone's second-biggest economy grew 6.75% last year and forecast that growth would moderate to 3.5% this year.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Catherine Evans) ((; +33 1 4949 5143;))