GERMANY - The German working group for occupational pensions, aba, is optimistic that the government will take up its suggestion for creating a permanent panel on second-pillar pensions composed of experts, social partners and politicians.

Heribert Karch, chairman at the aba, confirmed to IPE that German work minister Ursula von der Leyen "seems to be well disposed" to the aba's recommendations at a one-on-one discussion with the minister.

Among the aba proposals is the creation of a permanent panel on occupational pensions to consist of experts, social partners, politicians and "maybe also academics", Karch said.

"What we need is an institutionalised dialogue that takes place reliably and continuously," the aba chairman added.

This discussion should be part of the current debate on old-age poverty in which Von der Leyen has recommended granting people a special supplementary pension who have not regularly paid into the pension system.

For Karch, this is a good idea in principle, but he says it would be even better if as few people as possible had to apply for it.

He said he was convinced a good occupational pension scheme provided by the employer could help in this, especially if solutions were found on how to compensate for contribution-free times like part-time employment or job losses.

Karch said he would like to see some kind of reward for employers that manage to get as many employees as possible - possibly even 100% - into an occupational pension scheme.

In the paper presented to the work minister, the aba said it was open for suggestions, but this reward could include fiscal benefits.

But Karch noted in the current state of the debate that it was not so much about spending more money on the second pillar as it was about "courage" - to remove obstacles and make changes.

According to the aba head, one of those necessary changes might be to allow exceptions to the subsidy rules for pension funds and other retirement vehicles.

Currently, the threshold for tax advantages for contributions to schemes is often too low to attract top-level earners in companies.

That means either the company has to offer more than one scheme - which is seldom an option for smaller companies - or there will have to be exceptions to the rules.

According to the aba's plans, the panel should draw up a set of measures to increase participation in the second pillar, which could include simplifying the legal framework, eliminating bureaucratic hurdles and increasing the level of information on occupational pensions.

Karch also said he wanted to further discussion on the prevention of "counterproductive European regulations" such as Solvency II.