ITALY – Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has called for the retirement age to be raised by five years.

Italy "needs to raise the retirement age by five years" he was quoted as saying in an interview by the Libero newspaper. "In Italy people retire at an average of 57. How can one stop working at such a young age?"

Berlusconi is the most senior figure to call for the retirement age to be raised. Earlier this month Giancarlo Fontanelli, a senior director at Inpdap social security institution for public employees said that the age of retirement could be gradually raised to 70.

"We start off every year with a 70 trillion lire (35.8 billion euro) pension deficit," Berlusconi told Libero. He said he wanted to secure the backing of his two main allies, National Alliance and the Northern League. "I will convince them," he told the paper. "On September 1, I will lay down some very strict conditions."

The proposal has been met with resistance. "If they upset our pension system, we'll fight against it," Savino Pezzotta, the leader of the CISL union, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Earlier this year Moody’s Investor Services says the current reform of the Italian pension system, coming in the midst of a recession, could “spark social discontent”. Italy currently has the highest per capita spending on pensions in the European Union, at 15% of gross domestic product.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development says a priority of Italian pension reform should be to further increase the employment of older workers. It says there are currently incentives built into the system which encourage early retirement.