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French revisit pensions

France appears to be grasping the nettle of future pension reform, with the announcement that Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has asked a civil service think-tank to commission a report on the subject.

Although according to Arnauld D'Yvoire, general secretary at France's pensions watchdog,Observatoire des Retraites, doubts are being raised that this is just another ploy to 'bury' any pensions programme in bureaucracy.

Jospin has asked the 'Commissariat du Plan' to study France's overburdened pension system and make re-form suggestions, particularly for the country's 'Special Schemes', covering around 5m civil servants.

D'Yvoire believes it essential Jospin tackles this difficult issue: If the state does nothing to change the high cost of civil service pension schemes, then the French people will certainly not accept any public pension reforms."

However, with a report on pension reforms by socialist minister Gerome Cahuzac due to be published later this month, D'Yvoire feels it "contradictory" that the two bodies are not working together. "I fear this may just be an attempt to avoid addressing the real re-forms which need to be made," he says.

A debate in Paris on 16 June organised by the CFE-CGC (The French employment federation) concerning the future of French pension funds and their possible effects on employment, raised similar questions.

Looking at the example of pensions systems in the UK, US and Switzerland, the debate focused on issues of French future pension fund strategy, dependency on the stock market and whether the maximising of fund profits would lead to job sacrifices.

Francois Fatoux, spokesperson at CFE-CGC, said: "Since the non application of the Loi Thomas in 1997, which the last government had proposed for pension reform, France has been in limbo. Two years ago no-one spoke of the link between pension funds, the economy and employment. Now looking abroad we see these are major areas of discussion, and this debate has raised the issues particular to France."

France's financial market is forging ahead though with its preparation for Emu implementation. At a London forum last month to promote Paris in the 'Europlace', Jean-François Théo-dore, chairman of the Paris Bourse heralded France's capacity to become "the most efficient gateway to Euro-land", citing the country's positive macroeconomic background.

This included economic growth of 3% in 1998, and stock market capitalization that had risen from 27% in 1990 to 50% of GDP in 1997, which Théo-dore claimed made Paris Europe's leading money market. Increasingly computerised financial trading and clearing systems, should see Paris in "pole position" for the move to Emu. Hugh Wheelan"

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