Belgian ‘silver fund’ tops €15bn

BELGIUM - The Belgian ‘silver fund', the reserve fund set up in 2001 by the federal government to bolster first-pillar pensions, has so far grown to €15.1bn.

Another €900m could be added to the fund this year, announced Freya van den Bossche, the Belgian budget minister, when presenting the arrangement's 2006 results.

The fund, a budgetary arrangement to set aside money for future pension obligations, was set up to act as a pension reserve fund in order to make provision for expenditures linked to the expected rise in pension liabilities.

As the number of pensions, which will need to be paid from accumulated assets, is expected to rise steeply in the next few years, the Silver Fund will ensure reserves are invested to give a guaranteed return of around 3.25% minimum.

Past critics have argued the silver fund is nothing but an empty box as the fund was, until recently, mainly filled with the pension assets of pension funds for government bodies and councils.

The critique prompted 2005's law change, obliging the government to close governmental accounts only when there is a structural surplus which also needs to go to the silver fund.

Last year, a surplus of €176m went to the silver fund. In 2007 the surplus needs to be 0.3% of the GDP, while between 2008-2012 another 0.2% need to be added annually.

Other earnings came from the share earnings of Belgian telecom company Belgacom (€317.1m), a share in the result of the National Bank (€211.9m) and the sale of the Belgian central bureau of mortgages (€26.5m).

The fund's invested assets returned just over €601m, bringing the total earnings for 2006 to €1.333bn.

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