Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010

Nicolas Sarkozy to introduce French pension reforms

French President Nicolas Sarkozy
The downturn has forced Mr Sarkozy to bring forward pension reform

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he will introduce plans for fundamental reforms to France's pension system later this year.

The president met key union leaders to discuss his controversial pension reforms earlier on Monday.

His government wants to cut the pension burden on the state, with one option being raising the retirement age.

However, unions have already voiced their opposition to any such move and threatened a major dispute.

Increasing the retirement age would also prove unpopular among the French as a whole, polls suggest.

Pension deficit

"If we want to save our pension system, we can no longer put off the decisions [on reform]," said Mr Sarkozy after the meeting.

It's urgent now because of the demographics
Professor Laurent Marouani, HEC Business School

"These decisions will be taken in early autumn and contained in a bill that the government will present to the two assemblies."

However, mindful of public opposition, he said he "was not going to push through [changes] by force".

The retirement age in France is currently 60, much lower than in many other European countries.

In Germany and Denmark, the retirement age is 67, while Britain is planning to increase it to 68.

The French government has said its pension deficit will be 10.7bn euros ($14.6bn; £9.3bn) this year, and rise to 50bn euros by 2020.

Baby boom

Mr Sarkozy had hoped to postpone pension reform until after the next presidential election in 2012, but the global downturn has forced the issue back up the political agenda.

France's growing national debt level means the government needs to cut spending levels.

The problem is compounded by the large number of people set to retire in the coming years.

"It's urgent now because of the demographics," Professor Laurent Marouani at HEC Business School told the BBC.

"Now, many people born between 1945 and 1952 are going to retire, so it's becoming urgent because how are we going to pay for these people in two to three years?"

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