Work until 67 in France? Not now, officials say

Fri Sep 23, 2011 12:41pm EDT
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PARIS (Reuters) - French officials sought on Friday to play down a remark by Prime Minister Francois Fillon suggesting France should align its pension policy with Germany, which has voted to raise its retirement age to 67, five years above the French age.

President Nicolas Sarkozy weathered months of street protests last year over his decision to raise the French retirement age by two years to 62, leaving a dent in his poll ratings from which he has yet to recover entirely.

France's retirement age -- lower than in many other European states -- is one plank of a generous social welfare system that offers citizens a range of perks, from rent subsidies to free healthcare, which most French people view as sacrosanct and few politicians dare to criticize in public.

Fillon touched on the sensitive retirement-age issue on Thursday at a speech to company heads in Paris, saying France needed to accelerate fiscal convergence with Germany in a range of areas, including retirement.

"We will have to move toward a common corporate tax policy between France and Germany, we will have to move toward a common work week, we will have to move toward a common retirement age," he said.

Government officials moved quickly to temper the remark, saying there were no plans to revisit France's retirement system in the short term but rather Paris would proceed with a gradual process of harmonization with Germany, as foreseen by Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as happening by 2029.

"The prime minister said we were moving toward a global convergence with the Germans, he did not say 'I propose a reform for the upcoming months and weeks'," Energy Ministry Eric Besson told Canal+ television.

"There is no reform in the works, the discussion could be opened in the years to come but in the next few months it is not on the table," he added.

Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno told RTL radio the message Fillon was conveying was that there could not be big divergences between France and Germany. "The fact Germany has walked down that path (on retirement) does not mean that France will also."   Continued...

<p>An elderly man looks as the pack rides during the tenth stage of the Tour de France 2011 cycling race from Aurillac to Carmaux July 12, 2011. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol</p>