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May 26, 2010

French Workers Protest Pension Reform as European Fiscal Crisis Grows

by Lisa Bryant

Tens of thousands of French workers took to the streets to protest planned pension reforms while larger popular discontent grows in Europe as governments tighten their belts to cope with the current and future financial crises.

Rainy weather did not stop tens of thousands of discontented French from protesting in Paris and other cities against plans by the center-right government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to raise the retirement age.

France has one of the lowest retirement ages in Europe - starting at age 60.  But that is no argument for Bernadette Groison, head of one of the major trade unions - the FSU.

Groison told France Info radio she was pleased with the protest turnout.  She said it showed the public will not let the French government raise retirement with impunity.

A number of European governments are notching up minimum retirement age.  Economists say they have no choice.  As Europe ages and its working population dwindles, the continent can no longer afford to bankroll its growing number of retirees.

The fiscal crisis roiling Europe has pushed a growing number of countries, including Greece, Spain, Portugal and Britain to adopt tough austerity plans.  Within this more fiscally sober environment, some like Germany, are also adopting tougher regulations for financial institutions - to avoid a repeat of the recent global financial crisis.

Speaking in Berlin, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner praised new fiscal rules adopted by Germany last week.

"We share a common interest in making sure we are working closely together to make sure we reinforce this global recovery and that we work together to put in place a strong framework of global reforms over this global financial system that will reduce the risk of future crises, provide better protection to investors and consumers for our economies," said Timothy Geithner.

Meanwhile in Spain, the parliament narrowly passed a new austerity plan aimed at avoiding a fiscal crisis similar to that which hit Greece this year.