Evidence from Eleven Countries
Edited by Giuliano Bonoli and Toshimitsu Shinkawa
Chapter 4: The Politics of Pension Reform in France: The End of Exceptionalism?
Christelle Mandin and Bruno Palier INTRODUCTION For long, France appeared as the extreme example of a country where welfare reforms, and especially pension reforms, seemed almost impossible. In spite of the fact that demographic trends were known since the mid-1980s, one had to wait until 1993 to see a first (partial) reform. The failed attempt of the Juppé reform to complete the process in 1995 is well known, as is the fact of millions of people demonstrating against this reform and blocking France for almost one month in order to (successfully) prevent its implementation. One had to wait another seven years before a new reform was attempted and achieved. One should refer to the framework of the French pension system to understand why it was so hard to change. The French pension system is typical of continental welfare states, which are qualified as conservative and corporatist by Esping-Andersen (1990). This system is primarily funded by social contributions paid by employers and employees and is managed by administrative boards composed of their representatives. Partly due to their role within the system, trade unions may be considered as strong veto players (Tsebelis, 1995) in the process of reform, as they appear to represent the French population’s attachment to its pension system. Indeed, French people contribute during their working life to obtain a generous pension, which represents on average 70 percent of their previous earnings, and are strongly attached to pensions that they consider as a ‘deferred wage’. Generous benefits, management by the...
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