France passes later retirement rules into law

French president Nicolas Sarkozy

French president Nicolas Sarkozy today sealed his victory in a long-running battle with unions as new retirement rules became law.

Despite a series of massive strikes and street protests, the minimum retirement age is now 62.

The law was published today in the government’s official journal, meaning Mr Sarkozy has signed it and it has gone into effect.

The country’s constitutional watchdog approved the plan yesterday after France’s parliament passed it last month.

The success gives Mr Sarkozy a boost on the international scene as France prepares to take over the leadership of the Group of 20 major economic powers starting on Friday.

French unions and others angry over having to work an extra two years had disrupted train and air travel, caused fuel shortages and allowed rubbish to pile up in the streets. More than a million people had repeatedly taken to the streets in protest.

Mr Sarkozy said today that the pension system had been “saved.”

“(I am) fully aware that this is a difficult reform. But I always considered that my duty, and the duty of the government, was to carry it out,” he said.

Unions had argued that retirement at 60 was a cornerstone of France’s generous social benefit system, but the government said the entire pension system would have been jeopardised without the change because French people are living longer - an average of nearly 85 years for women and 78 for men.

France’s Socialist opposition meanwhile complained that Mr Sarkozy had not taken complaints about the reform seriously. Socialist leader Martine Aubry said Mr Sarkozy “thinks that by keeping his head down and not listening to anybody, he’s showing courage.”

Mr Sarkozy’s approval ratings are hovering around 35%, near their lowest levels since he took office in 2007.

He has not yet announced his intention to run in the 2012 presidential election, but with the tricky pension reform behind him, he can now try to rebuild his popularity at home by turning to less contested matters.

Like many heavily indebted European governments, France is trying to cut back on spending. The pension reform is the latest successful push by a European government to cut back on government spending despite months of anti-austerity strikes and protests.

The French reform means that the minimum retirement age is now 62 instead of 60. Those who want to claim full pension benefits must now wait until age 67 instead of 65.


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