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French Austerity and the New Les Misérables


French employers have called for rigueur millions of pensioners. A five year plan of misère that will see pensions in the private sector cut in real terms.

Under the bosses’ austerity plan, from 1 April this year, pensions will rise by 1.5% less than inflation, and in the following years to 2017 they will rise by 1% below the rise in the cost of living. That is expected to save 4 billion euros a year for  the two pension funds Agirc and Arrco which are facing a 10 billion euro projected deficit in five years time. Unions have declared the proposals unacceptable, although (bar the CGT) they have been willing to accept year one of the plan if bosses share the burden by increasing company contributions to the schemes.

But employers’ association Medef rejects this. Indeed they want more sacrifices – a progressive increase in the retirement age, to the tune of a quarter a year, from 2017, a move that will save a further one billion euros.

Picking on ordinary pensioners like this isn’t necessary – French firms may claim poverty now but the country’s top 40 listed companies (CAC 40) in recent years had more than enough cash to ensure the pension schemes’ solvency. They chose instead to use their profits to pay out more than 100 billion euros in dividends, in the three years to 2011, however.

The plan is also very unfair. Around 13 million pensioners are on around 1,000  euros a month on average. And more than a million people over the age of 64 live in poverty. Contrast that with the bosses’ own retirement nest eggs. No sign of rigueur for them.

In addition to bonuses, stock options and free shares, half of the patrons of the France’s top 40 listed companies (CAC 40) will receive supplementary pensions, or retraites-chapeaux, netting them 545,000 euros annually each on average when they retire. Franck Riboud of Danone, Jean-Paul Agon of L’Oréal and Henri de Castries of Axa are to pocket more than a million euros each. And that’s in addition to the statutory pension…

Amid massive pressure on living standards and rising unemployment imposed on workers in a bid to prop up the banks, the patronat’s planned pensions heist shows there’s one rule for the 1% and another for the rest of us.

France’s socialist government has ditched promises of kick-starting growth in favour of Chancellor Merkel’s austere recipes for Europe and is now pushing for labour counter-reforms. But it has nevertheless been tougher than most western regimes with the super-rich. It has to be hoped that – as well as sticking to its pledge to resubmit a law to implement its ‘millionaires’ wealth tax that was thrown out at the end of last year on a technicality – President Hollande won’t let this particular bosses charter go through.

Tom Gill blogs at


Tom Gill edits Revolting Europe.

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