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France gears up for pensions debate

The retirement system is at the top of the French government’s priorities for reforms to the social system in 2003 and discussions with the social partners will commence shortly.
As with many other developed countries, an ageing population has taken its toll on the French retirement system, and urgent reforms have been called for by the social partners. Three measures are currently being considered: length of contributions; size of pension; and level of contributions - with the French government’s clear preference being for an increase in the length of contributions.
Discussions will commence this month between the government and the social partners, opened by Francois Fillon, minister of social affairs, and public sector minister Jean-Paul Delevoye. Prior to the negotiations the trade union CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail) has called for a national demonstration.
Prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has fixed a date at the end of June whereby he hopes to have decided upon a plan of reform with the social partners.
l Minister Fillon has made a European tour to study pension reform in Germany, Sweden and Finland in order to formulate ideas for France’s own pensions reform. “Finding a model is not the key to a reform in France,” Fillon says. “But looking at the conditions in each_country allows us to form a ‘consensus’ on the issue of pensions.”
He cites Germany, Finland and Sweden as being countries where governments and unions had managed to find elements of a reform upon which all parties agreed, and said the idea of forming a consensus had “called out”.
Fillon met Ulla Schmidt, Germany’s health and social minister, before moving to Sweden to meet Berit Andnor, minister for welfare and social security. He also met Finland’s Maija Perho, minister of social affairs and health.
Accompanying Fillon were representatives from the trade unions who will be speaking to their counterparts in the three different countries.
Fillon hints that part of the reforms in France will be an increase in the age of retirement. In Europe, the average age of retirement is 64, compared to 57.5 years in France.
“Taking into account the European convergence, the euro etc. it will not be possible to continue with such a vast difference in age of retirement,” says Fillon.

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