France’s two second pillar retirement regimes, AGIRC and ARRCO could be forced to backdate up to four years of pension payments to men who became widowers be-tween 1990 and 1994, should the European Court of Justice (ECJ) rule they are covered by equality declarations in the Treaty of Rome.
And the case could have significant bearing on the status of AGIRC and ARRCO in the French retirement system, with the court examining wheth-er the regimes can be considered as part of France’s social security pillar.
The ECJ is considering a complaint by French citizen, Monsieur Podesta, following a French court referral, who claims discrimination at the time of his wife’s death in May 1993, because he could not begin claiming her pension until age 65 - the legal male retirement age.
Podesta argues that had his wife lived, she could have claimed her pension at age 50, the former retirement age for women - before 1990’s Barber ruling in the European court set about equalising pensionable age.
However, France’s AGIRC did not harmonise its pensionable level to age 60 for all until 1994, with ARRCO setting a 55 years blanket for men and women in 1996.
“Arnauld D’Yvoire, secretary general of the Observatoire des Retraites in Paris, comments: “Both ARRCO and AGIRC didn’t take into account the intervening four year period from the Barber ruling, because I don’t think they considered the significance of any possible claims.
“Podesta is seeking to receive his wife’s pension for these four years, and by the looks of it he has a case.
“Although the money involved will be small, it is going to involve difficult actuarial calculations and this will cost money if more claims come forward.”
He adds that the case has also sharpened European Commission criticism of France on its application of equal pension rights for both sexes in the professional sector.
The French retirement bodies must present their conclusions to the court before the summer.
Cecile Vokleber, spokesperson for AGIRC and responsible for European affairs, says AGIRC and ARRCO will be looking to clarify article 119 of the Treaty of Rome.
“The issue is that AGIRC and ARRCO are considered as parts of the state retirement system in France, and the question is whether they should be covered by article 119 or not.
“Should the court rule that AGIRC and ARRCO are affected, then it would open the door for any men widowed between 1990 and 1994 to claim backdated pensions rights for their spouses - although it is difficult to estimate the possible costs in-volved.” Hugh Wheelan