EUROPE - The top priority in the EU's development strategy concerning pension legislation and regulation has been to uphold confidence in pensions systems, according to Gabriel Bernardino, chairman of the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA).

Addressing company managers and trade union representatives from across Europe at a meeting of the Brussels-based European Association of Paritarian Institutions (AIEP), Bernardino mentioned the need for "confidence" repeatedly. 

At the AEIP's 15th anniversary celebration in Wiesbaden, Germany, the EIOPA chairman criticised the present "fragmented" nature of pensions systems across the Europe and stressed the need for improved consumer protection.

"What we want is to have a common European approach," he said. "There are still too many differences in the internal market."

He said rectifying this would be one key objective of the authority, which only came into being at the start of this year.

"We need to bring insurance and pensions toward financial stability overall," he said.

In a number of other speeches Bernardino has given since EIOPA's inauguration, he has made clear that his priority at this stage is to look at basic standards and to bring pensions supervision closer across Europe.

However, he says he does not advocate any complete overhaul of pensions systems, adding that it would be beyond EIOPA's mandate.

On the strength of the new authority, he outlined as one of the authority's powers the right to settle any disagreements between different national supervisors.

Bernardino noted that, in the last resort, EIOPA, which is based at Frankfurt, has the final say in any decision related to disagreements. 

The new powers contrast with the powers of EIOPA's predecessor, the Committee of European Insurance and Occupational Pensions, whose powers were limited to giving advice.

Bernardino added that EIOPA had the power to investigate if there were doubt that an EU law was being applied in a given member state.

"This is an important power," he said.

Without mentioning Solvency II issues, he noted that, with employment-based pension systems, "part of the risk is with the employers, and you need to take that into account".

Separately, Bernardino said staffing at the authority, which currently stands at 43, would be increased to 120 in two years.  He also said he was happy with the standard of candidates applying for positions so far.

Meanwhile, the new president of the AEIP will be Peter Huber, member of the executive board at Soka-Bau, a pension fund and paid holiday fund for the German construction sector.