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Pensioners protest decline in purchasing power

Pensioners took to the streets on Thursday to defend their purchasing power, one of Nicolas Sarkozy's key campaign promises, on which the government has so far failed to deliver.


Unions urged pensioners to take to the streets Thursday to raise the alarm about their declining purchasing power. In Paris and other cities across the country, they marched to ask for pension raise before a possible reform of the pension system goes ahead in a few weeks.


They mainly complain against the fact that pensions went up by only 1,1% on January 1st, while inflation hit 2,6%.


“I’m disgusted,” Monique, a former factory worker who earns only EUR 800 monthly, told AFP. “I worked my whole life and I get nothing at the end.”


President Nicolas Sarkozy may not have any other choice but to listen to their grievances. He made the defense of consumer purchasing power a main theme of his presidential campaign last year.


The question interests many beyond the pensioners.


According to a CSA poll for the VSD weekly magazine published on March 5, 79% of respondents aren’t ‘satisfied’ with the way Nicolas Sarkozy has been dealing with the issue of purchasing power.



The state coffers are empty”



A gloomy economic situation, made more acute by the US subprime crisis and amplified by the media, has put the government on the defensive.


In his January 8 press conference, Sarkozy admitted that there wasn’t much he could do to boost purchasing power: “What do you expect from me? That I take from coffers which are already empty?”


The admission may have come across as helplessness at the time but it now sounds more like a plain refusal to give away money.


Asked about it in a Figaro interview published on March 6, he justified himself: “You can’t just issue decrees to raise salaries.  A strategy by which you keep increasing the minimum wage is not the right one.” He also added that he supported workers participation schemes. He also mentioned the different steps the government has taken so far, such as to stop taxing overtime.


None of these measures apply to people who have already retired.  There are 14 million pensioners in France and only about 600,000 of them perceive a welfare allowance of EUR 628 maximum. Sarkozy promised to increase the allowance it by 25% during his mandate and committed to raise pensions in 2008.


In the meantime, the government said it would give an extra EUR 200 to those on welfare.

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