The European Commission is being overly ambitious in its attempts to launch a pan-European pensions registry, as member states must first find a level playing field for their national systems, according to the director general of the not-for-profit in charge of the Belgian national pensions database.

Steven Janssen of SIGeDIS noted that there were many problems that needed addressing before the Commission could consider a continent-wide database – such as the one in Belgium – or a service similar to in Denmark.

In a panel at the WorldPensionSummit in Amsterdam, Janssen said the model would have a problem not only with establishing identifiers for individual pension fund members, a system not in place in many of the EU member states, but also a clear way of linking the national identifiers with each other across tracking services.

“For instance, if a Dutch person were to come to work in Belgium, he would get a unique identifier in Belgium, too,” he said. “Now we have to link the Dutch unique identifier with our identifying key, and someone has to do the interlinking and guaranteeing that the links are correct and stay correct.”

Of the Commission’s ambitions for a pan-European system, which saw the European executive ask Dutch, Danish and Finnish providers to advise on how such a system could look, he said: “You should not, like we say in Flemish, try to run before you can walk. The European Commission is already thinking about running, and we are still not at the same level of creating registers at the national level.”

Ole Beier Soerensen, currently chief of research and strategy at Denmark’s ATP and involved in the launch of 15 years ago, agreed with Janssen, although he joked that the reason the Danish system’s launch had been successful was the fact the country was “one of the existing communist monarchies”.

“At present, the Belgians have [a tracking system], the Swedes have it, the Dutch have it and the Danes have it – but there are 490m people in the European Union who don’t have it,” he said.

“Make national systems first, and once you’ve got them, please come and talk to us.”

He added that he did not expect the pan-European project to launch within his lifetime.

Evert Hoeksma, director of operations at the Dutch venture Stichting Pensioenregister, nonetheless was strongly in favour of tracking systems being rolled out in other nations, and said countries such as the UK would benefit.

“Especially in the UK, it’s more or less a necessity because, if you’re in the UK and you’ve worked for four, five, six different companies – which many people have – and they have quite poor pension information, you’ll probably [be] at a loss.”

He said the fragmented nature of the UK pension system – which currently has more than 6,000 active defined benefit funds and many more smaller scale defined contribution (DC) arrangements compared with around 400 pension funds in the Netherlands – only underlined the necessity for a tracking service, but also likely meant the government would need to introduce legislation to require pension funds to provide the data.

“It is an effort,” he admitted, “but, in Holland, basically, the information we need is a very small set of data on each participant in the pension scheme.”

Beier Soerensen said opposition to launching such systems would often come from within the industry, but that the existing examples had proven the infrastructure could be developed.

Failure to launch such systems was a matter of the “political inability to accept collectivity and enforcement as a tool”.

“We [the Danes] do that,” he said. “Trust the tools – they are no big deal in ideological terms. Of course, it doesn’t look like that in the US and UK.”