Despite strong opposition from the unions in the form of three months of continued strike action, France’s pension reform bill has finally been agreed by the French General Assembly.
After 19 days of intense debate, during which 8,679 amendments were discussed, the ministers agreed to adopt 463 of the proposed amendments.
The key proposal, which has driven public revolt, is the harmonisation of the public and private sector pension systems. Both sectors will now have to contribute for 41 years of working life in order to receive their full pension entitlements. This will be raised to 42 years in 2020.
The ministers have also agreed to create new retirement savings plans for individuals.
Labour and social affairs minister, Francois Fillon, admitted that the government had turned its back on private pension funds, and that the new savings plans would be needed to accompany the state pension system. The agreed amendments and proposals are now being discussed by the senate.
Convincing the public of the need to reform the pensions system has been an uphill struggle for prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. In a seemingly desperate attempt to woo the public, he sent a letter to every French household explaining his pension reform proposals.
The publicity campaign, estimated at having cost around E3m, is the first France has seen regarding a legislative bill. It follows public criticism that Raffarin has been unclear and uncommunicative about the reform.
The letter, sent to around 26m homes, attempts to answer in an accompanying four-page leaflet the questions: ‘Why’ ‘How’ and ‘For whom’ According to Raffarin it aims to “tell the truth” about the reform.
Critics of the reforms are outraged, dubbing it “a campaign of disinformation”. But minister Fillon has defended the government. “The prime minister has the right to write to the French people and inform them about fundamental reforms which will affect their lives,” he said at the Assembly question time.
Fillon has also criticised those opposed to the reforms. “Essentially it is those who do not want to accept the argument of equality,” he said. “It is a must that even the French open their eyes and look around them to see what is happening. There is no other European country that has chosen a contribution period that is so modest.”
Fillon pointed out that many other countries had less generous pension systems than that proposed by prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin at the moment.
Public sector minister Jean-Paul Delevoye added his criticism saying: “Our country has not understood the seriousness of the situation we find ourselves in.” France faces a pensions funding gap of E10bn by the year 2020.