Three strikes and you’re out, France whiffing on a new pension reform

The French people are in the batter’s box again, taking swings at pension reform. And they’re striking out. It seems as though the year wouldn’t be complete without national protests in France. Almost twice a year some sector of the economy is on strike, usually affecting the social services like transportation and trash collection. But this year, French strikes have a greater significance. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the government are on the brink of passing the highly protested bill that would push minimum retirement age back from 60 to 62, and full pension age from 65 to 67. The strikes in response to the proposed reform have caused economic upheaval, costing the French economy roughly 200 to 400 million Euros — $280 million to $561 million — per day, according to Finance Minister Christine Lagarde. In addition to the costs in transportation and energy caused by the strikes, Lagarde said that this severely “damages the attractiveness of France.” As a country that relies heavily on tourism, these extended strikes are sure to impact the economy in more ways than one. While the average strikes in France are ignored as normal and at this point serve as a therapeutic activity for its people, the current strikes are lasting much longer and are more passionate than usual. What makes the situation even more typically French, is that, according to The Economist, 70 percent of people in France acknowledge that raising the retirement age is necessary. They do have one of the lowest retirement ages in all of Europe, so why all the fuss? They should be saying, “Yeah, we knew this would happen.” Europe as a whole is facing the same issues. While I was studying abroad in Spain this past spring, protest marches over pension reform were almost a daily occurrence and their retirement age is already up between 65 and 67. During a trip to the Netherlands in May, I found myself covering my nose as I dodged trash piles covering the streets due to sanitation labor reform strikes. These strikes are showing one thing: Europe is old. With the current economic crisis, after years of a declining birth rate and increasing lifetimes, their economies are hanging by a thread to support all those old people. What is most pathetic about France is that they can’t handle it. Sarkozy may be bearing the brunt of blame and hatred for now, but he is finally stepping up to the plate on pension reform and swinging the bat against the French workforce. For their sake, I hope he hits a home run.