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France plans to raise retirement age to 64, angering labor

January 10, 2023

The proposed changes will set off strikes by trade unions next week. French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the reform is an effort to fiscally balance the country's pension system.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne
Borne defended the reforms, saying one of the only alternatives to the overhaul would be to raise taxesImage: Bertrand Guay/REUTERS

The French government on Tuesday said it would increase the retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030, a move that will enrage the country's powerful labor unions.

What do we know so far about the pension reform?

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced the decision at a press conference in Paris and defended the reform as a way to fiscally balance the country's pension system. 

"I'm well aware that changing our pension system raises questions and fears among the French," Borne said in the press conference. "We offer today a project to balnace our pension system, a project that is fair."  

The French government has argued that people live longer than they used to, meaning citizens will need to work longer in order to keep the pension financially afloat. 

It's also said that its retirement rules are much more generous than most comparable developed economies with aging populations. In Germany, retirement is possible from 65 (but the government plans to raise it to 67 by 2029); the retirement age is 65 in European countries including Sweden, Hungary, Luxembourg and Slovenia; and countries including Italy, Norway, Greece and Denmark start offering a state pension at 67.

The full French pension age will be raised by three months every year, beginning in 2023, Borne said.

In addition, people will be required to have worked for at least 43 years before being eligible for retirement benefits. But those who do not meet this requirement would then be eligible for a full pension by 67, regardless of the number of years they have worked.

Reform faces unclear future in parliament

The pension reform aims to deliver on an electoral promise made by French President Emmanuel Macron when he first entered the country's highest office in 2017.

He abandoned an earlier attempt to reform the pension system in 2020, as the government was overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic at the time.   

The reform will have to be approved by the French parliament, where Macron's centrist Renaissance Party lost its majority. 

One possible backer of the move could be the center-right Les Republicains, whose leader Eric Ciotti has said raising the retirement age is necessary.   

Jean Luc-Melenchon of the leftist La France Insoumise has derided the Macron-Borne overhaul as a "serious social regression." Marine Le Pen, the head of the far-right National Rally, pledged to stop an "unfair reform."

Nationwide strikes set for January 19 

Union leaders have lashed out at the latest pension overhaul.

Laurent Berger, who heads the moderate CFDT union, told journalists after a meeting of labor leaders that "nothing justifies such a brutal reform." 

French unions have announced nationwide strikes on January 19. The unions said in a joint statement that the strikes intend to "kick off a powerful movement for pensions in the long term."

Serious protests under the moniker of the Yellow Vests movement brought France to a standstill in 2018 and 2019, serving as a major challenge to Macron during the first term of his presidency.   

wd/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)