From 1 October 2017, Poland will revert to its pre-2012 retirement age regime. As the day has drawn nearer, the European Commission has increasingly criticised the transition back to a 'his and hers' normal retirement age. Brussels’ objections are based on equality concerns: is the Commission’s definition of equality unhelpfully narrow?

The ruling Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) party repealed 2012 pension legislation installed by the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO) party, fulfilling a 2015 campaign promise. Reversing the preceding government's policy is a common political gambit in Poland. This instance has piqued the European Commission because it considers the policy in breach of European Council Directive 79/7/EEC of 19 December 1978. In essence, the directive requires that member states' social security legislation treat men and women equally.

So how does one set a fair retirement age? Within the EU, approaches have varied.

Policy makers in Poland defend the revision on the basis of women having a right to retire early "...because they have more responsibilities, including raising children." This is a fair consideration; elsewhere, postpartum leave provisions increasingly empower families' to make their own choices as to who can take leave and when. For instance, in Italy fathers have full rights to maternity leave. Across Europe, member states are heeding the equal treatment directive more strictly: Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Lithuania are phasing in normal retirement age equalisation. Meanwhile Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia all prescribe a gender-neutral reduced normal retirement age for child-rearers.

If this debate starts with child-rearing responsibilities and a normal retirement age, then it concludes with life expectancy. European countries actively phasing in a life expectancy-linked normal retirement age include Cyprus (from 2018), Denmark (from 2025), Finland (those born in 1965 or later) and Netherlands (from 2022). Italy and Slovakia are already operating under the statistically-based adjustment. Under these regimes, like under Poland’s new--old rules, women will likely enjoy longer lives after retirement. The EU Commission has not raised any objections in these cases, however.

* all lists are indicative, not exhaustive