The European Commission should focus less on regulation and more on politics, according to one of its most senior commissioners.
Michel Barnier, commissioner for the internal market, said the focus on less regulation had been applied to the revised version of the IORP Directive, which the Commission is set to publish tomorrow.
Speaking at a conference in Brussels to mark the second anniversary of the White Paper on Pensions – a policy paper jointly drafted by the directorates general for internal markets, social affairs and economic and monetary affairs – Barnier stressed that, despite tomorrow’s IORP proposal not including any measures related to solvency or capital requirements, work conducted by the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) would form a “useful foundation” for the commissioners appointed after the May European parliamentary elections.
The French commissioner, who abandoned plans to introduce the first pillar of the revised IORP Directive last year, said his successor would be able to look forward to a “definitive report” on the impact of the proposals compiled by EIOPA.
He also said it was now time for Europe to be a force for removing red tape and avoiding over-regulation of markets, focusing instead on mobility.
He argued his preferred approach was for “less regulation, more politics” to emanate from Brussels, a mindset he had taken forward into the revision of the IORP Directive.
Nadia Calviño, deputy director general within the internal markets commission’s financial services unit, reiterated during the panel debate following Barnier’s speech that pension matters would carry over into the next Commission’s term.
“I don’t think tomorrow’s proposal, whatever reform we do to IORP, is going to be the end response to the challenges we face, and we probably need to continue this debate in the coming years,” she said.
Reacting to Barnier’s comments, UK pensions minister Steve Webb called on the commissioner to urge his successors “to do exactly what you’ve just said”.
Webb said it was important to have less regulation on pensions matters, reflecting that all countries are different, and not to attempt to impose a Europe-wide “blueprint”.
“My concern is that EIOPA, which perhaps has a little less profile and a little less scrutiny, will simply bring all of this [solvency] back in a few years time, and we’ll have to go through the whole thing again,” he said.
Later, he added that, despite the White Paper stating that the Commission should support member states’ efforts to reform pensions, it had been perceived differently.
“For the last two years, it’s felt like the role of the Commission is to try and destroy what we have,” he said, adding that solvency requirements would have been “catastrophic” for his native pensions industry and that time had been spent attempting to prevent damage, rather than cooperating on more positive policies.
Calviño sought to assuage those concerned about “regulation through the back door”.
“I haven’t seen the European Commission ever propose something out of the blue and being a big surprise,” she said. “Normally, things are discussed – and there are panels such as this. Regulation through the back door is quite difficult in this area, where we have active stakeholders.”
However, even Calviño’s comments did not appease Webb.
When asked what he wanted from the Commission in future, he said: “Let’s not have that phrase you just used: ‘more harmonisation’.”