FRANCE – Pensions reform in France has become a key element in this year’s presidential election campaign with incumbent president Jacques Chirac promising an additional €152bn by 2020 for the newly-created state reserve fund, fonds de réserve des retraites. The money will come from the privatisation of state-run companies and be used to pay pensions between 2020 and 2040.

However, the idea has already come under fire from within Chirac’s own party, the right-wing Rassemblement Pour la République (RPR). Bernard Accoyer, an RPR member of parliament, believes the creation of a state reserve fund doesn’t go far enough. “Creating a reserve fund simply won’t be enough to deal with the impending pensions crisis,” he commented at a recent debate about the future financing of the social security system.

The question of third pillar retirement provision is where Chirac and his opponent Lionel Jospin clash the most. Chirac says he would like to see the creation of an Anglo-Saxon style private pension fund market, with the onus firmly on the individual to save, whilst socialist candidate, Jospin says the only way forward for the supplementary pensions market in France is via collective savings funds managed by the country’s trades unions. Employees’ contributions would be deducted from their salary.

Both sides face opposition to their plans, with observers claiming neither has thought through how they might achieve their objectives. Chirac’s talk of an Anglo-Saxon style pension fund “à la française” contradicts the position he took during the last campaign seven years ago.

A recent poll by the French Savings and Pensions Association, Afer, suggests that 26% of the French public consider Jospin the best-equipped presidential candidate to tackle the question of pensions reform, as opposed to 16% for Chirac and 11% for the communist candidate, Arlette Laguiller.

Overall, 73% of those polled say none of the candidates has presented their pensions policy clearly. Perhaps more alarming are the 61% who don’t think pensions are a significant issue for a presidential election campaign.