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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
STEVE CHIOTAKIS: In France today, the parliament voted to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62. Now that proposal has been highly controversial and triggered strikes and protests all over the country.
The BBC’s Christian Fraser joins us now from Paris, live. Good morning Christian.
CHRISTIAN FRASER: Good morning, Steve.
CHIOTAKIS: This result was expected, and there were protests even before the vote. Now that it’s official, are we expecting anything worse?
FRASER: Well, the Government fast-tracked this bill through the parliament, Steve to try to draw the fire out of the protest, and in some ways that is worked. The unions have struggled I think to keep the same momentum they’ve had in recent weeks. I think people are now resigned to the reforms but they’re still angry and they’re frustrated that the President has not listened to some of their concerns or their thoughts on how the pension system should work.
CHIOTAKIS: And where are they protesting? What are they doing?
FRASER: Well, we’ve seen people going back to work in the south — the garbage collectors have gone back to work, fuel stations are slowing being resupplied, the trains are running again. The big concern are the oil refineries. Seven out of twelve oil refiners in France at the moment are closed. The union that runs or supports the oil refinery workers is saying they’re digging in, and they’re refusing at the moment to go back to work. I think the government will be concerned by that, there’s no supply problem but there is a refining problem and that might mean in days to come that they will have to turn to the strategic oil reserve.
CHIOTAKIS: Let’s talk about the government there. How has the French government handled these protests and are they prepared for more?
FRASER: I think they’ll be pleased with the way that its turned out. The President in particular has been unyielding despite the protest he’s faced. Other presidents have backed down in the face of these union protests. But he did come to the country as a reformer. He will have that ticket to go to the country in 2012. The problem he has is that he’s been bruised badly by the strikes over the last few weeks. His approval ratings have slipped below 30 percent for the first time. And we’re only 18 months from a presidential election.
CHIOTAKIS: And, Christian finally — when will this retirement age change go into effect?
FRASER: Well the bill will be signed by the President in the next few weeks then it will be phased in slowly by the end of June next year people will have to work 41-and-a-half years for their full state pension. But there is a clause in this bill which the government promises they will look again at in 2013 to see whether the pension system is fair and to see if the system continues to be affordable.
CHIOTAKIS: The BBC’s Christian Fraser in Paris. Thank you.
FRASER: That you Steve.
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