Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A View from Germany: French Fury Goes Beyond Pensions - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

I saw this article in Spiegel Online, the German news publication. I thought I would post it only because it presents a much different view of the French protests regarding pension reform.

In the U.S. press reports, you get the idea that the French people are basically just a bunch of illogical citizens who refuse to face fiscal reality, and that allowing workers to retire at age 60 defies common sense.

This is not too dissimilar, by the way, to the way the French were treated in the days prior to the Iraq war, when they insisted that the U.S. did not have sufficient evidence that Saddam Hussein was close to preparing weapons of mass destruction.

In any event, here's the view from Germany:

Yet, as Der Spiegel points out, a French worker is eligible for a full pension only after working 40 years. If they decide to retire at 60, their benefits are significantly less:

In fact, 60 is merely the earliest possible retirement age for workers who have been paying into the system for at least 40 years. Anyone who retires at 60 in France without having completed the full contribution period must accept substantial reductions in benefits. The only problem is that Sarkozy clearly has no interest in initiating a socially accepted reform that has the support of the unions. In fact, such a reform has hardly been discussed at all. Basically, the outcome was announced before the beginning of any debate on the issue...

..In other words, the government... never sought the possibility of a sustainable, widely accepted solution. Instead, it used pension reform as a declaration of war against the unions, the Socialists and other adversaries...

The outcome is now one-sided and warped. Workers, particularly civil servants, are taking on virtually the entire burden of the reform, while employers emerge largely unscathed. Worst yet, workers with extremely long contribution periods are penalized, women are put at a disadvantage and hardship cases are not sufficiently taken into account. It is, in a nutshell, a socially unjust reform. The manner in which it was (not) negotiated is, in a political sense, perhaps the greatest scandal of all, while the current turmoil is the logical consequence.

So, according to the article, the real problem is that President Sarkozy is using the pension issue for political gains. Moreover, his own government seems oblivious to the public outrage against the swirl of corruption that seems to surround the Sarkozy administration.

Sarkozy's Perfect Storm: French Fury Goes Beyond Pensions - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International