BELGIUM – The European Commission has hinted that it may propose a new directive aimed at enabling people who change jobs between countries to retain their pension rights.

The Commission - in a strategy paper released by internal markets commissioner Frits Bolkestein - said it would “consider action to help people who move between jobs in different countries to take their pension rights with them (following consultations with the social partners)”.

It went further in a question-and answer document accompanying the paper. It said it was considering “action to facilitate cross-border mobility of people changing jobs between different firms (a Directive may be proposed following consultations with the social partners)”.

The Commission’s internal market spokespersons Jonathan Todd and Simone Nielsen were not immediately available for comment.

Chris Verhaegen, secretary general of the European Federation for Retirement Provision, said: “We are anxious to see what the proposal will be. We have not seen any text.”

She expressed fears that it would be difficult to achieve without adding extra costs into the system and that movers could be better off than people who stayed with the same company.

The strategy paper also says that member states have the “primary responsibility” for meeting the challenge of the ageing population. But the internal market can help the situation by generating extra growth and certain specific pension areas, such as the Pension Funds Directive that was recently approved by the European Parliament and continued action on pension taxation.

“A more efficient internal market can help generate the growth and employment which will lead to higher government revenues and help pay for state pensions.

“Rapid adoption of the Pension Funds Directive will secure better protection for pensioners and allow multinational companies to run single EU-wide pension funds,” it says. “The ageing of the population will also place health services under additional strain.”

“The strategy aims to respond to the challenges of enlargement and an ageing population and to keep Europe on course to become the world's most competitive economy by 2010.”

“In a union of 25, the onus will increasingly be on the member states to make the Internal Market work on a day to day basis.” The strategy is part of a plan to make Europe the world’s most competitive economy by 2010.

Bolkestein said that much of the internal market’s potential is being wasted. “It's as if we are driving a Ferrari in second gear.”