FRANCE – France’s constitutional council has validated the new pensions bill, marking the final stage of the lengthy pensions reform process.

The council has been reviewing the pensions bill adopted on July 24, and looking into complaints made by the socialist members of the parliament and senate.

The most controversial and debated part of the bill called for a harmonisation of the public and private sector pensions systems. In order to claim a full pension, both public and private sectors workers must contribute for 40 years as of 2008.

This will increase to 41 years in 2012, increasing to 42 years in 2020, depending on demographic, economic and social changes. Yesterday, the council validated the bill and rejected the grievances of those opposed, saying “the extension of contribution periods is aimed at safeguarding the pay-as-you-go system.”

Complaints that the bill did not provide equal pension rights for men and women were also rejected.

The all-clear by the constitutional council brings to an end the seven-month pensions bill debate, and will be welcome relief for the French government. Since the proposals were announced in January, France has been plagued by public strikes and demonstrations, and there were fears that the government may have to back down as in 1997.

Labour minister Francois Fillon and prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, however, stood their ground, re-iterating the urgency for pensions reform given the demographic issues facing the country, using television, radio and even personal letters.

The French parliament has now closed for the summer, reopening in September when discussions on supplementary pensions will commence.