FRANCE - The French senate is to discuss a draft bill next week that would turn the pay-as-you-go pension schemes of the public gas and electricity companies, GDF and EDF, into a public fund.

This week the lower chamber of parliament, the national assembly, passed the draft aimed at partly privatising the two companies. If the senate follows suit, the way the companies’ pension schemes are structured and financed will change.

A GDF official explained to IPE that currently most of GDF’s 38,000 employees pay their contribution in a special pension scheme, financed with a PAYG system. But if the draft becomes law, the scheme would be expected to become a public fund, with resources put aside as pension commitments. EDF was not immediately available for comment.

Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told the National Assembly this week that the partial privatisations could the firms into “European champions”.

The popular minister said: “This reform is important. It shows we can modernise our country’s public sector. We are showing the public sector is not opposed to change.”

Sarkozy said 2004 could be a significant date for the two companies, comparing it 1946, when the companies were founded and the 1970s, when the country chose to nuclear energy.

“How can we imagine that the statute of 1946 could help us face the challenges of 2004? This industrial reform will allow the two companies to become European champions.”

He also said the reform would allow France to keep its promise made at Barcelona in 2002, to introduce greater competition in energy market.

Unions have opposed the measures by cutting supply to landmarks like the Eiffel Tower in Paris.