EUROPE – A senior figure in the European Commission’s Employment and Social Affairs directorate has said the enlargement of the European Union has made the issue of portable pensions urgent.

“The Commission feels that it’s important to really look at the question of transferability of pension rights,” said Jérôme Vignon, director of the Commission’s directorate general for Employment and Social Affairs.

“The urgency has been created because of the oncoming enlargement of the EU. The enlargement results in a greater mobility of workers and a greater need for transferability of rights.”

He said the Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision directive – agreed in September last year - would “enable us to manage one aspect of transferability by having a possibility to work cross-border and to be able to be a member of multiple schemes”.

“One cannot wait until the climate changes or until knowledge enables to develop further negotiation between the social partners at European level,” Vignon said, in remarks quoted in recently released minutes of a meeting at the European Parliamentary Pension Forum earlier this year.

The forum was set up in 2003 to aid the exchange of information between the pension industry and the European Parliament.

“The mobility of workers is at stake,” Vignon told the meeting. “This mobility is very closely linked to the fundamental rights that are anchored in the Treaties of the European Union.”

He added: “We need to see how this can work as a positive thing in the long term for all of the industrial partners and others concerned. It is in the interest of the employers to have portability at European level and that there are no obstacles to organize complementary pension schemes across the European Union.”

He said it was important for workers to be able to benefit from the complementary pension rights for which they have contributed. “We should be able to work out a feasible scheme to benefit from these joint interests.”

Vignon explained that the planned pensions mobility directive would take a “minimal harmonization” approach. He told the meeting: “The idea behind this text is that there should be a minimum basis, a minimum level for the parameters that the Commission Pension Forum has been studying, which looks at the acquiring, the preservation and the transferability, the possibility of belonging to different schemes and trans-border situations.”

“The aim of this Directive is to establish a minimum set of conditions for all of these parameters. In such a way, the Commission is able to create a legislative basis on which other aspects can be developed at a later stage.”

And he said that other developments – “not necessarily legislative” - would be voluntary agreements, codes of behaviour and sectoral agreements.