The French say they understand the necessity for change. However, as was the case 15 years ago, they are again in the streets saying “no” to pensions reform.
euronews spoke to André Sapir, member of the Bruegel think tank and economics professor at the Free University of Brussels.
Mr Sapir, for you, is this “no” a “no” to the principle “live longer, work longer”?
Undoubtedly it’s partly that, but it’s also partly down to the difficulty a country like France has with industrial relations.
It’s an old problem, but it’s an extremely difficult problem in a society like French society.
Why is it so difficult ?
France has this characteristic: it has an extremely low level of union membership. So you have unions which are not very representative, but are strong activists. The authorities are not faced with representatives with whom they can talk reliably. And there I think the state often goes about it the wrong way.
Dialogue is often lacking in France, and I think that’s really the cause of the malaise.
Of course somewhere else I think that the will to work longer isn’t particularly strong.
Let’s look at another French characteristic. Young people are protesting against a reform that’s supposed to safeguard their retirement. The students’ argument goes: if we force older people to work longer, young people will suffer higher unemployment. Does this street arithmetic seem correct to you?
No. It’s an arithmetic that doesn’t seem at all correct to me. We can see clearly that in countries where the rate of over-55s in work is much higher than in France, there is no correspondingly high rate of unemployment: the reverse is true.
Scandinavian countries have very high rates of employment. They have very low rates of youth unemployment, and the employment rate among over-55 year-olds is far and away higher than in France and higher than the European average.
Can you give us an idea of what Europe will look like in 20 years’ time as far as pensions are concerned? What will we see, people of 70 still working?
People are going to work longer in Europe. But I think there’s another side to the equation, one we often forget. Alongside the question of how much we work and for how many years, there’s also the question of quality.
We can also see clearly that there are some very very significant differences not only between education systems in Europe, but also in terms of ongoing training at work.
Take an example like France, or like my country, Belgium. Fewer than 10% of people between 25 and 60 take part benefit from training at work.
In Scandinavian countries, these figures reach 25-30%. It’s true that people will need to work longer. But the less we give them the tools, the less we give people training so that they can be productive for longer, I think we’re heading for social situations that risk becoming worse.
André Sapir was speaking to Laura Davidescu.