France's new Socialist government moved Wednesday to lower the retirement age from 62 to 60 years old for certain workers, bucking a global trend in a gesture to unions that critics say is a costly mistake.
Governments from North America to Europe have been pushing retirement ages higher and higher in recent decades, as people live longer and spend more years on state-sponsored pension checks.
New French President Francois Hollande, who won election last month on a wave of voter anger at austerity measures, proved Wednesday that his leftist campaign rhetoric was not just bluster.
Raising France's legal retirement age was one of conservative former President Nicolas Sarkozy's key reforms, aimed at reducing heavy government debts as Europe sunk into a continentwide financial crisis. The reform met huge, nationwide protests -- yet many economists said it didn't push the retirement age high enough.
The minimum retirement age went from 60 to 62, and the age to receive a full pension regardless of how many years you pay into the system went from 65 to 67.
On Wednesday, Hollande's government presented a draft decree at a Cabinet meeting that reverses the retirement age to 60 for those who enter the workforce at 18 or 19 years old and have contributed long enough to the pension system. The right to retire at 60 was seen as a pillar of France's social benefit system for decades.
The government said the decree, affecting about one in six retiring workers, will be finalized later this month and take effect in November.
The hard-left CGT union hailed the move as a "striking decision that breaks with policies everywhere in Europe."
Sarkozy and his allies argued that French workers had it too good, while busy workers in places like China and India are propelling their economies ahead.
France's leading business lobby, MEDEF, criticized the Hollande government's decree as "worrying for the financial future of the pension systems and for the competitiveness of businesses." Conservative politicians denounced it as short-sighted.
The full retirement age in the United States is being gradually raised from 65 to 67. Germany recently raised the legal retirement age for most people to 65 for women and 67 for men.