Since spring there has been a heated pensions debate in the Netherlands, fronted by the Dutch opposition Labour party (PvdA), in which politics and media alike focused on three particular areas: the financing of the state pension (AOW), the new Pensions Law and the effect of an ageing population.
Kick-starting the debate in early-June, PvdA leader Wouter Bos's proposal to secure part of the state pensions system (AOW) by taxing it for higher income pensioners, with calls for the establishment of a Progressive Elderly Party that would thwart Bos' plans. Bos was forced to climb down.
When the Dutch government fell at the end of June, opinion polls showed that more than half of Dutch people worry about pensions.
While the PvdA and other parties continued their debate about the AOW, concerns were raised whether the defunct Dutch cabinet of the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the free-market liberal party (VVD) would be able to discuss the proposed new Pensions Law and the new financial assessment framework (FTK).
Staf Depla, MP for the PvdA, thinks that the time-limit of January 1, 2007 is only realistic for the FTK. "The other parts of the new law will have to wait another year."
Nonetheless, the Dutch parliament was still discussing the FTK in the second week of September.
Though some things will need to change about the FTK, says Depla: "We want two people from the social partners, someone from the DNB [the Dutch central bank, also one of the pensions regulators] and someone from the CBS [Statistics Netherlands] and an independent chairman who should advise us in the future about how high the thresholds should be."
In August the Dutch social affairs and employment minister Aart-Jan de Geus, who introduced the new pension law and oversaw the VPL act that came into effect at the beginning of this year, removing the prospects of early retirement, announced that he did not want a place in the next cabinet.
De Geus' announcement was greeted with relief. Dapla said: "I'm very happy about it. He managed to fall out with everyone and others had to see how they could put things right again. The discussion about early retirement, took two years longer than was actually necessary, because he was quarrelling with everyone." Meanwhile the Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende intervened in the pensions debate, saying: "We should stop constantly labelling demographic ageing as a problem." The future dynamics of society are hard to predict, he argued. But it wasn't just politicians who had their say. Pensions giant ABP also spoke out. While politicians said one thing ABP managed to persistently say the opposite - a clear indication of a volatile time for a pension industry that would rather would keep a low profile.
Unfazed by ABP's criticism, parties added to the debate with some creative proposals revolving around consumers. In the first two weeks of September, PvdA, CDA and VVD tabled a number of amendments during political debates.
Firstly, there was the idea for a quality control certificate for all pension funds, so pensioners could have a simple overview of the current financial position of their fund.
"As with washing machines, fridges or other electrical appliances, we want a clear label so that you can instantly see what the quality of the arrangement is of the regulation with regards to protecting purchasing power," Depla said, "and of course some people don't like such a level of transparency."
But De Geus countered: "A pension fund is entirely different from a fridge." .
Another amendment concerned the wider circulating plans for an online pensions search engine that enables consumers to see where their pension rights are and how much pension there is.
The Dutch association for industry-wide pension funds (VB) was enthusiastic about these proposals. Even De Geus showed support during a debate about the new pensions law in the Dutch Lower House - as long as the government doesn't have to arrange it.
Thirdly, a majority made up of CDA, VVD, PvdA and the Green leftist party Groen Links proposed that it should be easier for the growing number of independent entrepreneurs starting without personnel to build up a pension: just as employees, these entrepreneurs should be categorised under the tax friendly regime for pension saving.
Finally, it was also decided that underfunded pension funds, will in future get a reprieve of three years instead of having just one year to recover, after CDA, PvdA and VVD put forward an amendment.