The STAR agreement reached last month between Dutch pension funds, insurers and social partners to allow pension funds to offer individual retirement products to employees looks set to be shot down by Hans Hoogervorst, the secretary of state for social security.

The consensus, which has recommended to government that as long as pension schemes legally ensure equality between all scheme members and their contributions and liabilities, and ensure that retirement accounts are entirely segregated, then they should not be prevented from moving into the individual pensions market.

However, in recent speeches Hoog-ervorst has hinted he will not accept the industry recommendations.

And a major issue behind his stance is believed to be that of European competition law, currently being raked up by a series of Dutch cases on industry pension funds before the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Henk Lunstroo, a consultant at Amersfoort-based independent pensions consultants Kamerbeek, ex-plained: Hoogervorst has been saying the government will not permit pension funds to offer these individual schemes, principally because he is worried about solidarity and security aspects for such plans. He still feels the pensions field is fairly amateurish in such affairs, and is concerned that with insurers being taxed for providing such plans, this would constitute unfair competition in European law."

However, Rob ten Wolde, general secretary at the OPF body for company pension schemes, says he be-lieves the STAR proposals will meet European competition standards: "We know Hans Hoogervorst is in discussion with the European Commission on this, but we believe and hope this will not stall government ratification of STAR this year."

The current backdrop of the three Dutch pension cases before the ECJ cannot be aiding Hoogervorst's decision though, says Karin Bitter, lawyer and policy co-ordinator at the VB association for Holland's industry pension schemes.

The cases involve three companies; Albany International, Brentgens and Drävende Bokken, which are challenging the compulsion placed on them under Dutch law to join their respective industry bodies, as opposed to starting a separate company fund.

Bitter says: "Hoogervorst appears to be considering the solidarity question of pension funding and whether current schemes meet the requirements that differentiate them from insurance products, which are similar to the issues being brought up in these court cases. We believe the industry schemes do meet the correct criteria." Hugh Wheelan"