Public support for street marches and strikes in France may not be understood by some people here, let alone those who don’t live in this country and have missed the elements of the context that might explain.
Although the bill is being discussed at the national assembly and the senate, there is little suspense about the outcome. The minimum age of retirement will be pushed up from 60 to 62, and the age of pension at full rate from 65 to 67. In the french constitution, the parliament is a rather weak institution and recent modifications may have weakened it further. In the national assembly, the bill passed as debates were limited in time. In the senate, there were some negotiations with the centrist party that could lead to a brand new pension system based on personal accounts, comparable to this in Norway, but not before 2013. In the last years, several laws voted by the parliament were poorly written, proved difficult to enforce and some were later found unconstitutional and had to be partly modified. Nobody here waits an improved and more acceptable bill coming out of the legislative process. But what’s the problem with the bill in the first place ?
Today, the average which people retire is a bit more than 61. The reason is that you have to work for 41 years to get your pension, 42 in the coming years, a fact often overseen. The measures of the reform mean that those who started their working life before 18 won’t retire after 42 years. And those who stopped to raise a child, stayed unemployed for a long time, pursued long studies ... won’t have contributed enough at 62. What’s more, unemployment is widespread amongst the young of less than 25 or the seniors of more than 55. Many fear that the reform palms off the deficit from the pension system to the dole. We are all bound to die at work, seemed to say the marchers, if we find some.
Why such a crippled reform while most big unions or the opposition Socialiste party acknowledge the de facto end of pension at 60 ? (BTW, socialiste doesn’t mean socialist, as in USSR, but is more like liberal. They don’t like the word libéral, which means pro-big business, Corporate France and more or less conservative. Nicolas Sarkozy is libéral, ie conservative, get it ?) With a public debt towering at 80% and a huge deficit, the government had to do something quickly to keep its reputation as a borrower. The triple A rating and the low interest rates made to France were at stake. Following Greece’s fate was no option. The choice was between slashing public expenses, like George Osborne, the UK chancellor did with great courage, and facing possibly grim consequences on the economy, and putting up a quick and dirty scheme to save face. You could have guessed in advance they choose the latter.
Lazy frenchies ? I am certainly, but remember 2007, Sarkozy was elected with a slogan than proved very popular Travailler plus pour gagner plus, work more to earn more, not Yes week-end ! Now that we are in harder times, he refuses to cut the rebates offered to big tax payers after his election, the infamous (for its opponents) bouclier fiscal, the fiscal shield. Politics is also about symbols, and we may like it a bit too much.