EUROPE - The European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA), just six weeks after it received 3,000 pages of submissions from 170 bodies, is set to make a decision on the next stage of assessment on its ‘holistic balance sheet’ proposal for many of Europe’s 100,000-plus occupational pension funds.

Gabriel Bernardino, EIOPA’s president, yesterday outlined a provisional timetable for the conduct of quantitative impact studies (QIS) on its draft advice to the Commission on a revised occupational pensions directive.

Reiterating EIOPA’s preferred approach to marrying EU member states’ diverse and complex approaches to pension funding and solvency rules, Bernardino confirmed the first QIS would test the holistic balance sheet approach.

EIOPA’s board of supervisors is scheduled to decide on 13 February on a framework for a first QIS, for the holistic balance sheet proposal, according to Bernardino.

The first-draft technical specifications will be determined in March, incorporating Commission advice on the exact nature of confidence levels.

The first QIS - involving nine unspecified member states - will aim to produce an analysis of the rules’ impact on the overall supplementary pension system.

Studies in other, also unspecified, member states will measure the impact on individual pension funds prior to the delivery of a first report in September, Bernardino said.

According to the Commission, a draft directive may be possible by the end of 2012.

The holistic balance sheet proposal has not been without its critics, however.

In the past, the UK’s National Association of Pension Funds has characterised EIOPA’s proposal as “inflexible” and “unnecessary”.

“With such a diversity of pension systems across the EU’s 27 member states, it is impossible to find a single regulatory system that would work well in every member state,” it said.

“It would be better to retain the high-level framework provided by the current IORP directive, which allows member states to develop funding regimes that suit their own patterns of pension provisions.”

But Bernardino, speaking at an event organised by the Dutch Pension Federation, said: “It is not our intention to recommend to the Commission any one hypothesis. We want a comparable set of metrics - transparency, comparability and comprehensiveness - and to try to test this with different elements.

“We should not rush to cover all issues at the same time. But people need information about solvency levels. We are not dealing with zero-risk systems.”

Bernardino once again stopped short of advocating full implementation of Solvency II rules for pension funds, recognising that factors such as the conditionality of the Dutch system, sponsor covenants in the UK and the presence of pension protection funds should be incorporated in the holistic balance sheet.

“I must emphasise that, where there are genuine differences between insurance and IORPS, they will be recognised,” Bernardino said.

“We will take a consistent approach to both [the occupational pensions and insurance] sectors - but consistent does not mean the same.”

He said EIOPA would advocate a market-based approach that included transparency of funding metrics, comparability and comprehensiveness within the holistic balance sheet approach.

Bernardino also confirmed that EIOPA’s advice would not be to enlarge the scope of the IORP directive to first- or third-pillar pensions, but added: “There is a clear message from EIOPA to the Commission to look at these areas. This is an area of concern.”

He also signalled that EIOPA’s advice would be to increase supervision of defined contribution pension schemes - for instance, through a key information document for members.