VIVE LA FRANCE

The French Unions have called for National Strikes in response to the Government’s announcement that it will raise the official pensionable retirement age in France from 60 to 62.

This could be the first real test of the Sarkozy Government and its resolve to drive through needed reforms to ensure that France doesn’t implode economically. So far the Sarkozy Government and the Unions have been nervously circling each other without any real attempt to test the others “stomach” for an all out confrontation.

In Australia the qualifying pensionable age is 65 phasing to 67 by 2017, in Germany it has recently been raised from 65 to 67, in New Zealand it is 65 but with pressure to move to 67, as just some examples where there appears to at least be an acceptance that falling birth rates and ageing populations demand critical changes.

It is heavily supported by changing life expectancies, which in France have risen from an average for both sexes of 68 in 1950  to 80.7 in 2005 (Gilles Pison, Population and Societies 410, INED March 2005). At the same time, by comparison, Australia’s has similarly risen to 81.2, Germany to 79.4 and New Zealand to 81.2 (Figures from United Nations statistics (2005-2010).

It does appear that moving France’s retirement age to 62 is in reality a very minimal step considering the situation with retirement conditions in the rest of the world.

The notion that what is past is past and that this generation needs to ensure that we live up to our responsibilities rather than to just pass the problems on to the next generation does not appear to sit well with French Unionists. There is an attitude that as others have benefitted from easier conditions in the past, so now it is their turn to benefit in the same way, and to hell with the consequences… someone else can clean up the mess. I see this as being exactly the sort of selfish, “I’m all right Jacques” attitude that could flush this country down the gurgler.

It is obvious that we cannot continue with the excesses of the past, as these were totally unsustainable. The French Budget Deficit is estimated this year to be at least 5.6% of GDP, which is well beyond the EU ruling of less than 3%, and even higher than Greece (which has just crashed) at 3.7%. Even the UK, who have at least admitted that they are in a “parlous” state at 4.6%, have started to take measures to address the issues with an austerity budget, and serious clampdowns on public sector spending.

Strikes in France appear to be one of the main National Sports, and with France having been knocked out of the World Cup, there appears to be little else to satisfy the sporting hunger.

What I find most amazing is that in France only about 10% of all employees are actually Union members, whereas even Australia and New Zealand are over 20% (OECD Figures, from EIRO in France), so ultimately they represent only a very small percentage of the French population. It is therefore madness that in the past, successive French Governments have backed down on needed reforms whenever the Paris crowds took to the streets in opposition.

Most French people I know are hard working, responsible people who understand that France, like most other countries, has to rein in the excesses of the past, and that there will be a price that we will all, jointly have to pay.

The Sarkozy Team was voted into power in the belief that they would “have the balls” (quote from Christine Lagarde, French Minister of Finance in a BBC Interview 24th June 2010) to execute these reforms that were needed to bring France back to economic health.

For the sake of my adopted country, I dearly hope that the French Voters and Christine Lagarde were right.

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5 Responses to VIVE LA FRANCE

  1. martin metcalf says:

    Remember Maggie Thatcher. May she rest in peace for crushing the UK Union’s disruptive influence all those years ago. It doesn’t sound pc I know but the French Union’s need a good kick where the sun don’t shine.

    • leshayman says:

      Hi Martin,

      I think that we could well do with Madame Thatcher in France right now. She demonstrated that it just took determination to tough out and wait out the unions, irrespective of the political fallout, as she was committed to doing what was best for the country, I am not sure that French Political leaders have the same level of fortitude to kick the unions “ou le soleil ne brille pas”.
      Les

  2. I had to laugh when I read the Christine LaGarde Comment… We all thought that
    we’d see change the the USA too when Obama was elected. So far, we still have
    two wars, a polarized congress, An emboldened Tea Party Movement, No Marraige
    equality, An ever more ballooning deficit and we’re now staring a *3rd Depression in the Face…

    VIVE LA DIFFERENCE (FRANCE)

    *NYT – Paul Krugman, The 3rd Depression… http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/28/opinion/28krugman.html?ref=paulkrugman

  3. Sean Le Leprichaun says:

    National pension funding is a giant Ponzi scheme, if Bernie can hang in there long enough he will make another fortune as consultant to Govenment’s on how to keep it all going. It is no longer about having balls , the real trick is how long can you keep them in the air. When history looks back at the baby boomers it won’t be very kind. This will be ssen as a profligate generation that spent like crazy and when it finally ran out of shekels it simply passed the bill onto the kids. As far a France goes i dont think raising the age will by itself make a lot of difference! Why? Because is virtually impossible to get another job if you are over 50 years old anyway. At the other end youth unenemployment rates are enormous – the whole labour market is moribund costly and so rigid that french employers only hire when it is absolutely the last resort . Sorry folks but Sarkozy is another wall paper hanger !!.

  4. Let’s see indeed, but I am afraid that rather than viewing this as a broad economic and wellfare issue it will be tackled or avoided because of politics. Where in the old days labour would indeed stand for the working party, all around Europe Labour now stands for Party of the Civil Servants and unemployed. Where conservative meant people who dislike change, all over Europe, liberals and conservatives are the ones pushing the agenda for change. Voter vote them in and leave the socialists licking their wounds and remeniscing about the good old days, whilst trying to do everything in their power to “protect rights earned in the past”, no matter how irrelevant they have become over time. Socialists go back to work – money to give to the needy can only come from hard labour and econimic activity and conservatives – just show them how change and change alone can protect what we all hold so dear – a civilized society!!

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