* Rollback delivers on election promise by Hollande
* Prime minister repeats France will meet deficit goals
PARIS, June 6 France's new left-wing government
announced on Wednesday a cut in the pension age to 60 for some
long-time workers, carrying out an election pledge in the face
of economic troubles and an EU warning that it would overburden
an already creaking social welfare system.
Socialist President Francois Hollande, who took power in
mid-May on a pro-growth ticket for the economy, had promised a
partial rollback of his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy's pension
reform if he won.
"Promise made, promise met," said Prime Minister Jean-Marc
He said in an interview on TV channel TF1 that the move was
fully funded by a small rise in contributions and France would
still meet European commitments gradually to reduce its public
deficit to zero in 2017.
The cut, announced by decree, was anticipated but still drew
stinging criticism from the conservative opposition.
The change, taking effect in November, partly reverses
Sarkozy's 2010 reform that raised the pension age to 62 from 60
and affects workers who have spent at least 41 years in
Social Affairs Minister Marisol Touraine told reporters
after a cabinet meeting that the measure would cost 1.1 billion
euros per year up to 2017 and 3 billion euros thereafter, less
than the 5 billion euros previously estimated.
This would be financed by increased pension contributions,
she said, adding: "We committed to put this measure in place
quickly for social justice for those who started working early."
The reform will also create vacancies at a time when
unemployment is at its highest level this century.
The number of French jobseekers rose in April for the
twelfth month running to 2.89 million, the highest since
September 1999, data showed last week. The labour ministry said
it was braced for more layoffs in the months ahead.
A BVA opinion poll suggested that economic morale had risen
significantly since Hollande's election victory on May 3.
The poll showed that the percentage of people who said they
were "relatively confident" about the economic situation in
France had risen to 53 at the end of May from 33 percent at the
start of the month.
CREDIT RATING THREAT?
The European Commission warned last week that France would
struggle to meet its fiscal targets without spending cuts, and
that financing of the pension system had to be closely monitored
despite savings from Sarkozy's reforms.
While Ayrault said the government was committed to meeting
its target of cutting the public deficit to within 3 percent of
gross domestic product next year and balancing the books in
2017, the rollback on pensions drew fire from the conservatives
who put the initial reform in place.
The head of Sarkozy's conservative UMP party, Jean-Francois
Cope, called the change "madness."
"It risks the downgrade of France's credit rating and at
this rate tempts fate," Cope said at a weekly party news
conference. "It is not possible for Francois Hollande to
continue to bury his head in the sand."
Sarkozy's pension reform, adopted despite street protests by
millions in 2010, was welcomed by financial markets and credit
ratings agencies concerned about France's ability to cut its
debt and deficit levels in the face of stagnant economic growth.