France’s socialists took their first real step toward reforming the country’s pension system yesterday. After months of pressure from EU leaders to shore up the finances of the struggling pension system, the lower house of the French Parliament narrowly passed President Hollande’s reform, which increases the amount that public employees contribute to their pensions without raising the retirement age. The measure still needs to pass the Parliament’s upper house before becoming law, but it is likely to cruise through without any significant changes.This is clearly a step in the right direction, but many worry that it won’t be nearly enough. Business groups have been skeptical of the bill’s narrow scope from the beginning, and now Reuters reports that the EU is also concerned that much more will be needed. But amid the doubts, there is one promising sign of good things to come: the bill’s passage hasn’t drawn much of a reaction from the country’s strike-prone residents:
Hollande took a careful approach to the reform, opting to adapt the current system by raising the level and duration of pension contributions rather than attempt a politically risky increase in the current statutory retirement age of 60.His softly-softly approach has staved off a repeat of huge street protests against earlier reforms by his centre-right predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010. Rallies on Tuesday gathered only hundreds in major cities – an even smaller turnout than for a previous round of protests on September 10.
Late in his Presidency, Sarkozy passed a reform that raised the retirement age by two years, but it was greeted by massive protests and was a key reason for his defeat—Hollande made the repeal of Sarkozy’s changes a cornerstone of his platform. Hollande’s reforms are more modest, but it looks like his will actually stick. The question now is whether he decides that he’s had his fill of reform or sees this as a starting point for further changes.[François Hollande photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]