In Germany, we observe the various demonstrations that take place in France about pensions with a mixture of incomprehension and admiration. While on the one hand, we do not really understand the complexity of the French pension system nor the protests against the reforms, we do not fail, on the other hand, in particular that of the German left, to look with admiration at the mobilization success. More than 2 million people in the streets throughout France, several hundred thousand in Paris alone, these figures make the left-wing party, die Linke, dream. Especially if we consider that the Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund, the German trade union confederation, has 6 million members, that the trade union movement is not divided by quarrels, and that it is moreover firmly established in large companies. .
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However, in 2007, when they called for mobilization against the postponement of the retirement age to 67, only 300,000 people followed the movement across the country. The Minister of Labor at the time, Franz Müntefering, had no trouble discrediting the dissenters by speaking of “myopia” and was thus able to largely ignore them. The oppositions stopped relatively quickly and, today, retirement at 67 is hardly questioned by the unions.
Conversely, in France, the protests on pensions are based on a long tradition which has garnered success. Since 1990, there have been no less than eight reform packages which have led to reductions in benefits, lengthening of the contribution period and raising the retirement age. But the reforms initially planned were more ambitious, and protest movements have each time reduced their scope or even held them in check, as in 1995. Demonstrations and strikes have always been supported by the majority of the population. A dream for the German unions, while these types of movement are felt across the Rhine as an unwelcome disruption of public life and do not enjoy a high membership rate.
Purchasing power and wage costs
How to explain these differences in reaction on the question of pensions without resorting to the cliché of French revolutionaries and obtuse Germans?
One of the keys lies in the difference in politico-economic vision which makes pensions considered either as a factor of demand or as a factor of cost. After the Second World War, wages and pensions played a major role in the development of the economy in France, forming a virtuous circle in which domestic consumption and job creation were combined. Social expenditure, including pensions, was seen as demand factors and regulators of economic development. Even if the French economic system has undergone major transformations since the 1970s, retirement is still perceived as such.
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