STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said people should work till they are 75 rather than expect to retire at 65, sparking a furor in a country that prides itself on its cradle-to-grave welfare system.
Reinfeldt heads a center-right coalition that has so far cautiously cut taxes and some welfare spending without alienating middle class voters proud of their social security.
He made his remarks ahead of a conference this week on jobs for the elderly and women, which will be attended by some European leaders.
"The question is whether an employer will have a different attitude to someone who is 55 if the 55-year-old says, 'now I am thinking of working for another 20 years'," Reinfeldt was quoted by daily Dagens Nyheter as saying.
"The view of the Left is that when work becomes too difficult you take early retirement or some other kind of benefit. I would rather say that when the job becomes too difficult you should do some other kind of work," he added.
Measures to lessen the fiscal burden of pensions have sparked protests across Europe as it tries to deal with cutting its massive debt burdens.
Speaking later to reporters, Reinfeldt said he was trying to get a discussion going before the conference, known as the Northern Future Forum.
Reinfeldt said Sweden had to face the fact that people were living longer and that to maintain current levels of welfare and pension payment they would also have to work longer.
His remarks got blanket coverage in the local media.
"Just talking about raising the age limit is a provocation for all those who would like to work longer but cannot manage it," said Tomas Eneroth, a spokesman on social affairs for largest opposition party, the Social Democrats.
"Readers say: we want to stop working before 65," tabloid Expressen said on its website.
A poll on tabloid website Aftonbladet showed 90 percent of the 89,452 people who voted rejected the idea of working to 75.
Swedes can qualify at 65 for a state-funded pension for those who had little or no income. Other pensions can be taken from 61. People have the right to work to 67, but can work longer if they agree with their employer.
Reporting by Patrick Lannin, Editing by Alistair Scrutton