PARIS - Despite the government's foot-dragging, French business executives are pressing ahead for private pension reform.
On Jan. 17, France Pensions, a think tank of about 15 major French companies, issued a charter for "savings and retirement funds."
The group includes such prominent companies as Elf Aquitaine S.A., Total S.A., Pechiney S.A., Group Danone S.A. and L'Oreal S.A. France Pensions is headed by Raymond Soubie, a former cabinet member, and Jean-Paul Gires, director at the insurance company Cardif S.A.
Authors of the charter acknowledge private retirement funds "will always play a marginal and complementary part," given France's traditional reliance on pay-as-you-go systems.
Rather, group members hope to divert into retirement funds part of the nearly 90 billion French francs ($18 billion) that workers funnel into savings each year. Both employers and employees could make tax-deductible contributions into such pools, they argue.
To make the retirement pools attractive, the plans would be voluntary and designed for all employees. Benefits could be paid in annuity form or part could be paid in a lump sum.
To lure in younger employees, the charter stresses assets could be made available before retirement and used for retraining, buying a principal residence, paying off a mortgage or starting a business.
The authors believe such long-term pools would be invested heavily in stocks, instead of the bonds usually favored by French investors. Money managers would have to be independent of sponsoring employers. Both employee and employer representatives would serve on an oversight committee, and the plans would be audited.
Members of France Pensions hope to win support from more companies in coming weeks and to influence the government. But chances for winning pension legislation are dicey.
While Finance Minister Jean Arthuis recently promised to introduce pension legislation in a few months, Health Minister Jacques Barrot was more pessimistic. His comment that "any such reform appears difficult in the short term" is not exactly encouraging.