French finance minister says pension reform should not be put off

FILE PHOTO: French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire visits a cafe during preparations for the reopenning of restaurants and bars in Paris as part of an easing of the country's lockdown restrictions amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in France, May 18, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) - President Emmanuel Macron should not put off reviving a shelved pension reform although the risks of new social strife before next year’s presidential election must be weighed carefully, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Tuesday

As the coronavirus outbreak hit France early last year, the government put on ice a planned overhaul of the pension system, which it was close to passing after weeks of strikes.

As the COVID-19 crisis eases, the government has begun exploring new ways to move ahead with pension system reform before the end of Macron’s mandate in 2022, two sources familiar with the discussions said earlier this month.

Revival of the reform, which in its earlier version would have created incentives to retire later, could re-ignite social unrest just as Macron is likely to run for re-election in a presidential vote next April.

Asked on Cnews television whether the reform would come before the election, Le Maire said: “In my experience, in politics it’s never in our interest to put off until tomorrow what can be done today.”

“We have to take into account whether there are social risks, whether there is a risk there might be trouble,” he said, adding that the decision was the president’s to take.

Le Maire said that currently too many people left the labour force too early and said France could ill afford putting off a decision about working longer.

The initial proposal included replacing dozens of sector-specific pension regimes with a universal, points-based system. While most workers would not be able to collect a full pension immediately if they retired before 64, the legal age was to remain at 62.

One of the options currently being studied is to increase the legal retirement age by two years to 64 and increasing the minimum state pension as a sweetener, the sources said earlier this month.

Reporting by Leigh Thomas, Editing by William Maclean