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The whispers in Brussels suggest another Green Paper on pensions is in the offing, says Jeremy Woolfe

Revisions or developments to pensions policy from the European Commission are expected in a new, (as yet) unannounced Green Paper, which will show its face in early 2014 – perhaps as early as February. A major conference to follow is in the planning stage. So far, no specific items to be covered have emerged in Brussels whispers. But it can be assumed that solid proposals for the financial underpinning of occupational pensions’ resources will be high on any Green Paper’s priority list.

Presumably, these will be in the form of ‘holistic balance sheet’ or Solvency II-type measures. Note here the relevance of the recent appointment of Michaela Koller, director general of InsuranceEurope, in the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority’s new stakeholders’ group. The significance of the appointment is both her seniority and that fact InsuranceEurope has for years been calling for a “level playing field” between insurance-based and company-based supplementary pensions.

Another strategic topic for the policy paper could be an attempt by the European Commission to head off further contagion from EU member state governments simply capturing the assets of future pensioners under some kind of doubtful promise for the future. The perceived risk is governments will not play fair when the time comes. Then, the hopeful pension recipients will be in no position to reclaim rights if and when they find themselves falling foul.

At present, the legal status of the latest venture, by the Polish government, is said to be in doubt. No doubt, the legal ’eager beavers’ in the Commission will by now be seeking to clarify this matter in favour of the pensioners. However, in this and other issues, the Commission will be up against intransigence in the Council. Bizarrely, the representatives of elected national governments often seek to patch up today’s problems and ignore future interests.

Meanwhile, this week in Brussels, three-way sessions will discuss the Directive on the portability of supplementary pension rights. Cohesion will be sought between the Council, representing national governments, the European Parliament and the Commission. Social affairs commissioner László Andor had expressed optimism for agreement in June for clearance by the Council approval. However, a recent expression from Germany could put the matter in doubt.

Ria Oomen-Ruijten, a leading MEP in the field, tells IPE the current key negotiating positions include the definition of an “outgoing worker”. This means someone moving from one member state to another. Also important is the need to resolve legal definitions for the differences between so-called outgoing workers, and existing workers. “We are negotiating,” she explained.

According to another murmur on the Brussels grapevine, particularly in the fray on the portability issue, is internal market commissioner Michel Barnier. His cabinet of high-ups recently were considering the matter as relevant to solving the EU’s dismal performance on economic growth.

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