Pension age trouble

BRUSSELS – The European Commission is taking Greece to the European Court to press for the equalization of men and women’s retirement ages. However, this was announced by the Commission only yesterday, even though it had made its decision on June 27. The Commission began the process in July 2005, when it sent its first warning letter to the Greek government, and a year later, in July 2006, the EU’s executive body sent a second warning, the «reasoned opinion,» with the same arguments. Finally, on June 27, Brussels referred Greece to the court but did not inform Athens of its decision. Explaining their silence on the issue, the Commission’s agencies said they had been too busy on the day in question. Yet in the Commission’s internal documents it is clear that the matter is seen to be highly sensitive for Greece and should thus be handled delicately. The Commission invokes Article 141 of the EU Treaty about the equal treatment of men and women as well as an older (1993) decision by the European Court on the same issue, which considers the pension as payment, hence forcing equality in pensions as provided by Article 141. Greece’s position has been that implementation of the relevant provisions would have catastrophic financial and social consequences «at a crucial moment.» It further clarifies that its own legislation does not contravene Article 141, particularly regarding employees hired prior to 1993. This positive discrimination in favor of women is allowed by Article 141, according to Athens, not to mention that current regulations are in any case moving toward full equality, although no specific timetable has been delivered to Brussels. The fact that the Commission is taking Greece to court means it has rejected all of Greece’s arguments. The «positive discrimination» argument does not apply, says the Commission, as it would only be positive if it concerned women’s careers and not the time of their retirement. Brussels also argues that, according to the European Court’s 1993 decision, discrimination (whether in differences in retirement ages or any other kind) cannot be permitted on the pretext of economic problems or possible social reaction.

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