SWITZERLAND - In recognition of growing EU involvement in pensions, Swiss-based think-tank Innovation Zweite Säule (IZS) has decided to turn its attention to Brussels.

In a three-day fact-finding mission to the EU capital last week, members of IZS met with representatives of the European Commission, lobby organisations and Belgian pension groups.

Their main goal was to find out more about the pension fund directive, which must be fully implemented by all EU member states by September 23. They also took note of the pensions situation in Belgium and were informed, by the European Federation for Retirement Provision (EFRP), that the confusion in Switzerland between first and second pillar pensions could cause future problems.

As Switzerland is outside the EU, it does not have to abide by the provisions laid out in the directive. However, the IZS hopes to pass on what it has learned to Swiss-based IORPs - Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision - that operate within EU territory and will have to understand the new rules.

IZS estimates that Swiss pension law is about 80% compatible with the pension directive.

The study group also met with representatives of Belgian industry to learn how second pillar pension funds work at the moment in the small country, which is a similar size to Switzerland in terms of population.

Dr. Werner Nussbaum, a member of the study group, commented to IPE after the meeting how difficult and inflexible Belgium's pension system seemed to be. "I certainly wouldn't like to be a Belgian employee", he said, noting that it was very difficult for company workers to leave defined benefit (DB) schemes once they had signed up.

ISZ also met with Chris Verhaegen, secretary general of the EFRP, who drew attention to the confusion in Switzerland at the moment between first and second pillar pensions.

She said that this confusion, which was due to previous laws passed by government, made it much harder for Swiss nationals who move outside of the country to take their pension funds with them.

Chuard, who admitted that he was not aware of this particular problem, said that the group would look into it.