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France

French pension reform bill moves closer to law

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-10-26

Both houses of parliament will vote this week on a harmonized version of pension reform legislation as the bill moves its way towards adoption. The government expects the bill, which will raise the retirement age to 62, to become law by Nov. 15.

Representatives from the French Senate and National Assembly agreed on Monday to a reconciled version of pension reform legislation, bringing the controversial bill which will raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 one step closer to reality.

The Senate will formally vote on a revised bill on Tuesday followed by the National Assembly on Wednesday.

Following its adoption by both houses of parliament, France's constitutional court will be the last recourse for France’s Socialist party, which is seeking to have the bill ruled unconstitutional.


Meanwhile, workers at a quarter of France's strike-hit oil refineries started returning to work on Monday, taking some of the steam out of protests that have roiled France for weeks. Strikes have now ended at three of country’s twelve refineries, but eight remained blockaded according to union officials.

"We are up against someone who despises us. Do we really want to carry on until we break?" asked one worker at the Ineos-Lavera refinery, near the southern port of Marseille. "I don't think it's worth it."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has put his credibility on the line by pushing forward with pension reform, despite crippling strikes, widespread protests, and his own dismal popularity. According to some surveys on Monday, his approval ratings dipped below 30 percent for the first time.

French workers have enjoyed the right to retire on a state pension at 60 since 1982. The measure is seen as one of the great social advances of former Socialist president Francois Mitterrand's time in office.

But Sarkozy insists that, at a time of rising life expectancy and soaring budget deficits, France can no longer afford to retire earlier than other industrialised countries.

Spokesman Raymond Soubie told Europe 1 television Sunday that the president fully expects the law to be entered into the statue books by November 15.

Unions are already planning two more major days of action in the coming weeks.

Threat to economic recovery

French authorities warned Monday that strikes against pension reform have cost up to three billion euros so far and threaten to derail France's still fragile economic recovery.

"Today, we shouldn't be weighing down this recovery with campaigns that are painful for the French economy and very painful for a certain number of small and medium-sized businesses," Finance Minister Christine Lagarde warned on Monday.

Speaking to radio Europe 1, Lagarde estimated that the strikes were costing the economy between 200 and 400 million euros per day.

Lagarde also warned that images broadcast around the world of demonstrators clashing with riot police and of industrial sites blocked by protesters had cost France dear in terms of its international image for investors.

"It's the attractiveness of our territory that's at stake when we see pictures like that," she argued, adding that ongoing strikes at refineries and fuel depots were also taking a toll.

"It's obvious that the petrochemical sector in particular, which needs large supplies of hydrocarbons, is suffering," she said.

But the Socialist Party blamed the government for the strikes.

“Every day that goes by represents a loss for the French economy,” Socialist Party spokesman Benoît Hamon told FRANCE 24. “All this can be blamed on the government, and it knows it.”

The strike at French oil refineries over pension reform disrupted school holidays and sporting events over the weekend, with a quarter of petrol stations short of fuel.
 

Date created : 2010-10-25

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