Tuesday, 18 January, 2022

Why removing the pivotal age would not solve everything, according to Raymond Soubie

For the former social adviser of Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee, Raymond Soubie, a withdrawal of the pivotal age would not calm the most radical opponents of the pension reform, CGT in mind, and would leave the question of deficit. The subject is on the menu of the “fundraising conference” organized this Friday January 10 in Matignon.

Challenges – After 36 days of strike in public transport and the strong mobilization of January 9, do you think that the movement against pension reform will eventually run out of steam?

Raymond Soubie – In matters of social conflict, forecasts are hazardous and the greatest caution is required. In 1968, the country was blocked in a few days, while France was experiencing a period of strong growth. Today, the strikers are torn between continuing the conflict to obtain an unlikely withdrawal from the reform and returning to work to avoid losing too much money. In view of the concessions granted to SNCF and RATP agents and the length of the conflict, I am more inclined towards slowing down mobilization in transport.

Could other hotbeds of contestation emerge?

This is the whole risk of a reform like this one which affects all professional categories. There is great concern among teachers and hospital staff. Likewise, certain liberal professions, such as lawyers, defend tooth and nail their independent pension funds. Clearly, the government is not immune to new professions mobilizing and somehow taking over from the strike in public transport.

How can the government calm the protest?

The government’s difficulty is that it is fighting on two fronts. On the one hand, it must respond to the concerns and demands of specific professions at the forefront of the mobilizations: railway workers, teachers, lawyers, flight attendants, etc. On the other, he must reach out to the so-called “reformist” unions, CFDT in the lead. However, the gestures that he can concede to some will not be enough to satisfy the others, and vice versa! In other words, the concessions granted to the agents of the RATP and the SNCF do not lead to a rallying of the CFDT and Unsa which demand a withdrawal of the pivotal age. And removing the pivotal age will not allay the fears of teachers or lawyers.

Police officers, airline pilots, Opera dancers, truck drivers, SNCF, RATP or EDF agents… Was the government right to grant exemptions to several professions?

The “universal” diet has already suffered several sprains. The case of airline pilots, who have obtained the right to keep a supplementary pension fund, seems to me the most problematic. He opened a breach in which other professions, lawyers in the lead, could rush in to maintain their autonomous regimes. Maintaining early departures for air traffic controllers, recorded in the July Delevoye report, also seems little justified. The reality is that these professions very early on let it be known that they would block air traffic if their pension plans were touched, and the government was forced to come to terms. The risk is to blur the legibility of a reform which was supposed to make the pension system fairer and simpler.

Should Edouard Philippe withdraw the pivotal age from his reform?

It is a gesture which would make it possible to rally reformist unions, such as the CFDT and Unsa, and to satisfy some of the LREM deputies. But, as I said, nothing says that this will have an impact on the mobilizations of the most radical unions and the professions most opposed to the reform. In addition, the Prime Minister does not want to let the deficit slip away and the pivotal age appears to him as the best solution to bail out the coffers.

Why not leave it to the unions and the employers to find a solution to rebalance the accounts as the leader of the CFDT, Laurent Berger, suggests?

The government has taken up the idea of ​​the “financing conference” launched by the CFDT. Edouard Philippe has been repeating since December 11 that if the unions and employers find a better solution than the pivotal age to rebalance the accounts, he will adopt it. The problem is that the unions and the employers – the CFDT and the Medef in particular – are opposing head-on on the financing of pensions. The former suggest an increase in social contributions or a use of the pension reserve fund, while the employers demand a lowering of the legal retirement age to 64 years.

The government’s solution of the pivotal age should therefore prevail …

The pension deficit is expected to reach between 8 and 17 billion euros in 2025, depending on the level of economic growth. It is a reality that the government cannot ignore and it has no interest in letting the subject drag on to finally take painful savings measures a few months before the presidential election … However, it rejects the track of ” an increase in social contributions, which are already very high in France, and the decline in pensions, which is socially explosive. There is therefore only the possibility of extending working hours.

Why does the government not choose to extend the duration of contributions rather than introducing a bonus-malus system on pensions around 64 years old which looks like a lowering of the legal retirement age?

By playing on the sole lever of the duration of contributions, like the Touraine reform of 2014, the government should increase the working time by 10 months per year from 2020 to obtain a full pension to curb the deficit, according to the calculations of the Retreat orientation council. It would be very brutal. The solution of the pivotal age, proposed by the government, makes it possible to limit the increase in the average working time of the French to around four months per year, to the detriment, it is true, of certain workers who started working young.

Will the measurement of the pivotal age at 64 be enough to reduce the deficit?

This will probably not be enough. Especially since the government will maintain possible exemptions for people who started their careers before 20 years, the most arduous jobs, certain civil servants, etc. Ultimately, the risk is even that the reform costs more than it pays. This has happened in the past. As recently shown by a report from the Court of Auditors, the 2003 reform, which opened up the right to early departures for people who started very young, initially increased pension spending and even reduced average retirement age in France until 2010…

Overall, how do you judge the government’s method of this reform?

A reform of this magnitude inevitably raises concerns, tensions and mobilizations. All French people are affected by retirement, which is one of the pillars of our social model. It is also a crucial subject for public finances since pensions account for no less than 14% of national wealth. However, the government may have focused too much since 2017 on building a universal, pure and perfect points system, and not cared enough about compensating the losers of the reform, as well. than at the transition from the old to the new system. He is forced to do so today under the pressure of the demonstrations and in a certain haste.

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