Othmar Karas, Austrian MEP and rapporteur for the European Parliament on the occupational pensions directive has called for a March 22 motion for resolution on the legislation, which he expects to be followed by a plenary vote in the Parliament in May.

The call, made in his closing speech at the open hearing of experts to the European Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee in Brussels on February 6, came despite a raft of criticism levelled at the European Commission’s draft paper - from both within and outside the Parliament.

Striking a conciliatory note, Karas a member of the European People’s Party (PPE-DE) commented: “ There are different historical reasons for the way in which member states have set up their own systems and these must be borne in mind when making a concession.”

He remained upbeat, however, at the progress being made: “ Given the different agreements on the pension contracts between member states and the limits of freedom of choice, I am pleased that scepticism has given way to the need for a directive.”

Noting that the tax question currently under consideration by EC Commissioner Frits Bolkestein would be integral to the success of the directive, he nevertheless called for the Parliament to throw its weight behind the thrust of the draft directive:
“ I would urge the council to contribute to the general principle, because the beginning made has not been met with general glee.
“ The Commission’s position has to be clearly put if we want to make this part of the second pillar, rather than just transposing the interests of national providers.”

The hearing, chaired by German MEP Christa Randzio-Plath (PSE – European Socialist party) heard a number of views – many negative – on the Commission’s draft outline, with one commentator suggesting that the Commission be handed back the directive to make a better job of it.
Others thought the Netherlands, UK and Ireland might not be covered by the directive due to the adequate funding provision they already enjoy, while one parliamentarian opined that as very few companies will do cross border employee transfers, so the scope of the directive is too large.

Karas himself tried mediation on the question of the inclusion of biometric risk in the directive: “ Biometric risk is not just a question of longevity. Would you accept that it might have to be offered, but that people could then choose whether they wanted to do this?”

Wilfried Kuckelkorn, German MEP (PSE), countered: “If we don’t want to cover biometric risk then you could already do much of what we are talking about here through the life insurance directive.”

In turn, Astrid Lulling, MEP for Luxembourg (EPP) – vigorously reminded those present of what she called “ the objective of the directive: to open up the free market for provision. The objective is not to make up for the lack of the first pillar.”
Lulling also questioned the longevity aspect of women and equality of pension rights within the directive’s framework, which she thought were under addressed.

Bartho Pronk, Dutch MEP (EPP) and member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, also wondered whether everyone involved in the directive’s genesis had the same goals in mind – picking out the insurance industry for particular criticism:
“ There has been a tendency to convert the second pillar to the first or third pillar here.
“ Does the insurance industry know what the difference is between the second and third pillar?”