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French President Nikolas Sarkozy's fragile government is facing a new controversy trying to push through a long-awaited pension reform bill.
It's something that all previous governments, left or right, have avoided because of its unpopularity.
The council of ministers will examine the reform plan before the final debate at the National Assembly at the beginning of September. Although the reform is badly needed in France, it stirs up quite a dissent among its population. Several protests were held, such as the one on June 24th.
More than 2 million people participated. Union leaders have called for another strike and protest on September 7th. A recently survey showed that 66 percent of the French find the reform unacceptable.
French Resident, said, "When it comes to a certain age, we are no longer able to work, we don't have the same reflexes, we no longer have the same vitality. So we want to relax."
French Resident, said, "I think we have no choice, today we have no choice but to work more and later, and so we have to work even harder now."
French Resident, said, "I calculated that I'll retire at 74 years old, which means, either I take my retirement at 74 years, or I die before, that's all."
Most unions and opposition parties do agree that fundamentally a reform is necessary, due to the state pension-fund shortfall. What they dispute is the way and the angle from which the government has chosen to deal with the problem.
Pascale Crozon, French Opposition MP, said, "We realize that the French reform, because it stops in 2018 is much more constraining, more heavy for the tax-payer and the citizen, than in Germany or in Spain, because their reforms are ongoing as opposed to the French one which stops in 2018. Because afterwards, we have no idea how to continue financing the retirements."
Among the twenty or so measures announced, the main one concerns the legal age of retirement. It is planned to increase 4 months every year for the generation born after 1951, to finally lift the age of retirement to 62, for everybody by 2018. The government justifies this measure because of aging population and the increase of life expectancy.
Michel Forissier, Regional Official, UMP Party, said, "Legal age of retirement must be put back at 65 years old. It's the only realistic solution. But as in France, we are in a system where people are scared of change that is stamped with truth and reality, we do nothing. The longer we work the less it will cost, it's as simple as that."
The main objective of this reform: resolve the pension-fund deficit of 32 billion euros by 2018. Clearly, even if this reform remains very unpopular, the aim of the government is to ultimately balance the pension fund by all possible means by 2018.
"To reach that goal, unemployement would have to drop from 10% to the optimistic figure of 4,5% by 2020. A result unseen in over 30 years.