Experts have warned that any potential merger of the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority’s (EIOPA) stakeholder groups could see pensions “dominated” by issues affecting the insurance industry. 

The European Commission recently alluded to the possible abolition of the occupational pensions stakeholder group (OPSG), while also recommending that the bodies be funded by a direct industry levy.

In a report, endorsed by the European executive and soon to be discussed by the European Union’s heads of state, it said “[c]onsideration should be given to limiting stakeholder groups to one per ESA [European Supervisory Authority]” – a proposal that would only affect EIOPA, being the only supervisor with two groups.

Philip Shier, senior consultant at Aon Hewitt in Dublin and an OPSG member, said he would be concerned that a joint pensions and insurance stakeholder group would be “dominated by insurance issues”, resulting in “very restricted” debate on pensions matters.

The sentiment was shared by two of Shier’s fellow stakeholder group members, who spoke to IPE anonymously.

“You won’t have the depth and the breadth you currently have with two stakeholder groups to really touch upon relevant insurance or pension issues,” said one.

The second member said the potential merger was a “highly political” matter. 

“From a political point of view, pensions – and certainly occupational pensions – need to be a policy area of its own,” the member said.

James Walsh, EU policy lead at the UK’s National Association of Pension Funds, echoed their views and said his association’s goal was to ensure occupational pensions matters were “fully reflected” in EIOPA’s work.

“Having two groups, one of which is dedicated to the workplace pensions side of things, obviously helps us to do that,” he added.

He said the merger of the two groups could lead to a “lesser voice” for workplace pensions.

“Particularly, there’d be a concern that, because EIOPA sometimes seems to start with the insurance perspective and then see if it can be applied to workplace pensions, that problem would be exacerbated if it was one group,” he said.

Jerry Moriarty, chief executive of the Irish Association of Pension Funds, was similarly adamant that the two stakeholder groups should remain intact.

“I would be concerned that pensions would become an afterthought,” he said, stressing the “clear and good reasons” for the initial establishment of the OPSG.

The Dutch Pensions Federation backed its UK and Irish counterparts’ stances, with a spokesman telling IPE there were “specificities of pensions” that needed to be evaluated separately from matters concerning large insurers.

The abolition of the two stakeholder groups would be in line with the Commission’s initial proposals for EIOPA (later amended by the European Parliament) and the single stakeholder group in place at its predecessor, the Committee of European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Supervisors.

InsuranceEurope, the Brussels-based industry association, declined to comment when asked its view about a merged stakeholder group.

In its consultation response on the review of the ESAs, published last year, it did not call for a merger of both groups, saying the industry was “not sufficiently represented” on the OPSG.

It instead called for an “adequate” insurance presence.

The association’s director general, Michaela Koller, is currently the sector’s only representative on the OPSG.