Sarkozy follows Europe in raising retirement age

The French, who have the youngest retirement age in Europe, will soon have to work longer to qualify for a full state pension. As unions called a nationwide strike to defend pension rights today, the government said that France could no longer afford the retirement age of 60 – for both men and women – which has existed since 1982.

The insolvency of state pension systems, as the 1950s baby-boom generation approaches retirement, is a severe problem for all European Union countries. Deficits in pension schemes are one of the contributory factors to the immense state debts which have provoked a speculative panic on financial markets in recent days.

The problem is especially acute in France, which has the most generous retirement provisions of any European nation. The deficit in the French state pension fund, estimated at €32bn (£27bn) this year, is forecast to triple to €92bn in the next three decades unless the system is reformed.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has made pension reform the cornerstone of the second half of his presidency. He is expected to make outline proposals next month after consulting unions, employers and pensioners' pressure groups.

However, the Employment Minister, Eric Woerth, revealed yesterday that one decision had already been made. "It is the logical choice. We are going to extend the legal, retirement age," he told the magazine Paris Match.

The minister declined to say what the new retirement age would be but officials suggested that it would be increased progressively to 62 or 63 over the next few years. President Sarkozy annoyed the centre-left opposition yesterday by saying, in a private meeting of his centre-right party, that the late Socialist President, François Mitterrand, had "damaged" the French economy by reducing the retirement age to 60 in 1982. "Without that, and the 35-hour-week [introduced by a Socialist government in 2000] we would not be in the mess we are in now," he said.

Other EU governments are wrestling with similar problems. In Britain, the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition plans to "review" the retirement age of 65 for men and 60 for women.

The most drastic reforms so far have been in Greece, which has a €4bn hole in its pension fund this year. The retirement age for women will be raised by five years to match the men's of 65. Financial penalties on early retirement have been introduced and pensions have been frozen until 2012.

In Spain, President Jose-Luis Zapatero's austerity drive to save €15bn has forced the scapping of plans to increase some pensions next year. Worried about Spain's slow progress on deficit cuts, the IMF has urged the Spanish government to adopt more radical measures, such as an increase of the retirement age from 65 to 67.

The Italian government has introduced a three or six-month retirement delay for those reaching retirement age in 2011. Germany announced in 2007 that it planned to increase the retirement age, which is currently 65 for everyone. Between 2012 and 2029, the legal retirement age will be raised progressively to 67.

Germany's Employment Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, is determined to stick to the plan despite criticism from unions. "If we don't want to end up in a Greek situation, we have to work longer," she said.

Centre-right politicians in France cautiously welcomed the announcement yesterday but pointed out that many French workers were being pushed into early retirement before 60. They said that the government must also act to discourage "ageism" and persuade employers that older people could work just as effectively as younger ones. The actual average age of retirement in France is 58.8, compared to 62.6 in Britain, 61.3 in Germany and 61.7 in Greece. Only the Slovenes (58.5) retire, on average, earlier than the French.

Even before yesterday's announcement, trade union federations had called a one-day strike today to protest against any change in the retirement age or pensions contributions.

François Chéreque, the leader of the moderate CFDT federation, said that extending the retirement age was "the most unjust choice possible". The burden would fall most heavily on manual and low-paid workers, who started work younger, died earlier and could not afford – like white-collar workers – to take early retirement on private pensions.

In fact, many manual workers in the state sector – especially on the railways – retire on full pensions much earlier. French railway engine drivers have the right to take their pension at 50. In an attempt to reduce the scope of today's strike, the state railways, the SNCF, said that this, and other privileges, would remain untouched by the reforms.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links