EUROPE - The European Commission has submitted a proposal suggesting companies should be encouraged to provide pan-European pension schemes for researchers working in the EU.

In a communication entitled 'Better careers and more mobility: a European Partnership for Researchers', the EC highlighted the need for "joint priority actions" to make the EU a more attractive place for researchers.

The document pointed out although EU countries still produce more science and engineering graduates and PhDs than the US and Japan, researchers make up a much lower share of the workforce, as many either move away from research careers or pursue research in countries where they find better opportunities, such as the US.

As a result, the Commission is proposing a partnership be created between member states which allows researchers to be more mobile between countries, institutions and the academic and private sectors, with a focus on four key areas, including "meeting the social security and supplementary pensions needs of mobile researchers".

The communication pointed out workers are increasingly relying on supplementary pension schemes in order to provide for retirement, but it admitted "the conditions for acquisition, preservation and transfer of supplementary pension rights are often not well-suited for mobile workers such as researchers".

As a result, it suggested "extra efforts could be made for the provision of information specifically addressing researchers on the issue of supplementary pension rights".

The EC added although a proposal for a directive covering the supplementary pension rights' portability is "currently under negotiation", it admitted it is "unlikely to address the "transferability" of such rights".

It argued in the medium-term it is "desirable" to "explore the feasibility of measures to ease the transfer of supplementary pension rights for highly-mobile workers, including researchers".
In addition, the document - one of five policy initiatives designed to achieve the Lisbon agenda's ambition of a European Research Area - suggested pension providers "should be encouraged to open up pan-EU pension schemes targeted to researchers, and companies should be encouraged to use pension providers in other EU member states".

The EC claimed this would allow mobile researchers to contribute to the same supplementary pension fund while working in different EU countries and still comply with the different social, labour and pension legislation in the participating member states.

However, it pointed out this would carry a requirement allowing researchers to opt-out of any legal obligation to participate in a domestic pension fund, such as the personal accounts system that is expected in the UK in 2012.

The partnership would begin with each member state committing to the common objectives and proposed action, with the adoption of a national action plan by early 2009 - which would set out specific objectives and actions.

These priority actions would then be implemented by the end of 2010, at which point there will be an overall evaluation of the situation and the need for further action in any particular areas.

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Science and Research, said the partnership goals - which also include creating stronger links between universities and industry and improving working conditions - would make the European Research Area a "reality" and allow Europe to develop as a "world-class location for R&D in the long term."

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