FRANCE - Increasing the statutory retirement age in France is one of the "logical" options for its government to examine, a senior minister has confirmed.

The admission comes not long after Xavier Bertrand, leader of  President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing UMP party, called an increase in retirement age "inevitable".

Éric Woerth, the country's minister for budget, public accounts, civil service and state reform, commented on the possible rise in retirement age in an interview with French weekly Paris Match. But although he said that increasing the age of retirement would be a logical option for the government to examine, he stressed that no decision had been reached.

Woerth cited the possible increase as one of the ways to tackle a spiraling public pension deficit, expected to be €10bn by the end of 2010. Other measures have already been introduced, such as increasing the contribution period from 40 to 41.5 by the end of the decade.

Bertrand, a former government minister, went further than Woerth. "Raising the legal retirement age is inevitable," he said, adding that the opposition socialist party's promise to maintain the current age was "irresponsible'. His comments were met with concern by French unions who have promised to oppose any changes.

President Sarkozy announced plans earlier this year to tackle the country's growing pension deficit, with estimates predicting it will grow to between €72bn and €115bn by 2050 according to the Conseil d'orientation des retraites (COR).

COR recently suggested increasing the contribution period to 43.5 years by 2050 for those who wish to draw the maximum state pension. (See earlier IPE story: French pension contribution period expected to rise)