It has been obvious for years -and studies over the last 40 years have indeed forecast- that France, just like the rest of Europe, would be faced with an ageing population which would in turn mean having to undertake a major reform of pensions. Such a reform has been part of the present French government's programme, but it remains to be seen what measures will be adopted and how effective they are.
One of the most often cited measures would be to increase the number of contribution-years needed in order to qualify for a full pension, as has already happened for employees in the private sector. However, Jacques Bichot argues here that the significance of this number differs depending on the particular state pension scheme (the basic old age pension, the supplementary pensions schemes, the arrangements for civil servants and other special categories), and that a straightforward adjustment, such as a shift from 37.5 to 40 contribution-years, would not be enough to achieve equality among them.
More seriously still, he shows that the system of contribution-years has many drawbacks, for example, the fact that they do not carry equal weight, depending on when they occur, and that the system is far too rigid, which can lead to the state and the social partners being obliged to default on commitments made years or decades earlier. He shows, too, that the pensions systems are arranged in such a way that the amount paid out is calculated according to rules that take no account of the resources available, which means that it is the resources that have to be adjusted and therefore the workforce suffers, unless the system is allowed to go into "partial bankruptcy", which threatens the legitimate rights of retired people.
The author consequently argues strongly in favour of a change to the rules governing the French pensions system. In particular, he would like a unified system with the same points for everyone and no actuarial bias, so that individuals would know precisely what their position was and could act accordingly; the system could then always be operated in line with current circumstances but without harming established rights.
Rather than putting an end to the present rigid arrangements with an uncertain future, the analyses and proposals made here by Jacques Bichot are motivated by a justified need both to restore equity with regard to pensions in France and to allow there to be constant and smooth adjustments in the face of turbulent and uncertain social and economic circumstances.