Bruno Gabellieri believes that many of the problems of compatibility of Europe’s social protection systems could be resolved, if not at a stroke, at least without the need for complex new legislation – specifically the proposed European pensions directive.
The building blocks are already there, he says. They are the pensions and healthcare schemes that have been established in various EU member states on paritarian principles – that is, established and administered jointly and equally by employers and employees.
Gabellieri believes that these principles can be applied across Europe, and in 1996, he helped found the European Association of Paritarian Institutions (AEIP) with the purpose of promoting paritarianism at a European level.
The roots of paritarianism go back to the 19th century, and it developed most strongly in France and Germany. Yet until the last 20 years, there has been little interest in a pan-European paritarian approach. But in the 1970s the idea of ‘social Europe’ began to take shape, and since the late 1980s there has been a convergence of complementary social protection systems run on paritarian principles.
The process of convergence gained impetus in the 1990s when two paritarian organisations, one French and one German, considered the possibilities of cooperating at the European level. In 1993, the Centre Technique des Institutions de Prévoyance (CTIP), a French insurance association located in Paris, and Betriebskrankenkassen Bundesverband (BKK-BV), a German insurance federation based in Essen, signed two protocols of technical and ‘political’ co-operation.
Three years later, the CTIP and BKK-BV joined forces with the Italian insurer Assoprevidenza and the Belgian insurer Integrale to form the l’Association Européenne des Institutions de protection sociale Paritaires (AEIP).
“AEIP was created to give members a clear view of Europe – a position equi-distant between social and financial affairs,” says Gabellieri. “As agents of social protection we are exactly in the middle.”
Paritarianism is well suited to the task of achieving a social Europe, he believes. “It is based on the principles of social democracy, and it is also an essential component of the social market economy. By collective bargaining and the common management of social protection agreements, paritarianism bases its legitimacy on the balance of power between employers and employees. The state is not involved other than to recognise and protect these agreements.”
One of the things paritarianism can do is lay the foundations for a system of funded pensions. “We know it will be necessary to fund pensions for the future. We have to provide the social partners with a clear understanding of what we are doing at a European level. This is especially true for countries in the south of Europe such as Italy and Spain which are not convinced that the social welfare state is at an end.”
However, this does not require a pensions directive, he believes. “The AEIP is not convinced that it is necessary to have a pensions directive. We envisage something more modest, more realistic. We think it could be possible for each country to recognise the paritarian model at a European level. We need only to have a mutual recognition process at a European level to move from one to another system, with the possibility of free movement without a need for changing of the rules within the countries.”
Gabellieri says there is growing support for paritarian organisation from companies that have become international in scope. They are interested in schemes that are up and running rather than future plans for international pensions: “One of the goals of the AEIP is to have exchanges between concrete examples rather than theoretical systems. We need to provide examples of concrete agreements between employers and employee representatives to show what can definitely be achieved in the future. Together we can see from the German and French schemes what it is possible to do.”
However, he is determined that the debate about paritarianism should not be confined to France and Germany. “Contrary to widespread opinion, equal management also exists in the UK,” he says. “About half the British pension funds were created within the framework of professional sectors or large companies through agreement between companies and trade unions.
“The coal miners pension fund in the UK is the most significant of the pension funds managed paritarially but one also finds examples in the construction and transport sectors – anywhere where the trade unions are powerful.” He sees the 1995 Pensions Act providing further support for paritarian representation on the boards of UK pension funds.
Yet he does not believe that legislation is the way to advance the cause of paritarianism at the European level. “The AEIP has decided not to push for a new legal structure at the trans-national level for which it would be necessary to gain a special recognition from the European Commission. We think it is far more feasible to operate inside the instruments one has already. Paritarianism is not an entirely new system, plucked out of the air. It is already a concrete reality. We must promote concrete ways and concrete results, and the social partners are in an ideal position to do that.”
The aim, he says, is to keep things simple, and not create an additional tier of cross-border supervision. “We don’t like big systems, and we have not tried to create a supra-government structure. What we need is free co-ordination, with the supervisory view of the social partners but without any ‘Big Brother’ style of supervision.”
Gabellieri says the value of an organisation like the AEIP lies in the fact that it can provide a platform for the social partners of EU member states to explore ideas at a European level: “One of the missions of the AEIP is to create a sort of space for debate. We have no power for immediately promoting European social agreement. What we can do is offer the social partners the necessary space to meet and exchange information on the existing social security cover in each state. This will help them to progress together in the better knowledge of best practice, but taking into account international realities.”
This approach has the explicit backing of the EC. The social protocol annexed to the Maastricht treaty and incorporated in the subsequent Amsterdam treaty gives priority to direct agreements between the social partners. It envisages the extension of these agreements to European collective agreements, which could remove the need for directives altogether. “This protocol makes it possible to better imagine what could be the social policy of tomorrow in Europe,” says Gabellieri.
The construction sector is one example of how a European collective agreement can work, he says. “For a sector like that of construction, paritarian institutions dedicated to the social protection of the sector already exist in Italy, France, Ireland, the UK, Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands. With the acceleration of mobility in Europe and the opening up of markets, these structures can exchange information more and more, meet and conceive of a common future.”
One problem that paritarianism could help solve is the transferability of supplementary pension rights. The AEIP has set up a panel of experts to study this issue. “I believe we already have around the table the necessary players to find, with different initiatives, step by step, the concrete ideas that will lead to a solution,” says Gabellieri.
The AEIP approach is opportunist, he admits frankly. It adds its weight wherever it is needed. AEIP has supported the cases on the transferability of second pillar pension rights that have brought before the European Court of Justice (ECJ), notably the Danner case. It has also supported amendments to the proposed occupational pensions directive by the committee headed by the Austrian MEP, Othmar Karas.
“We have to be ready, every time, everywhere to find a solution,” Gabellieri insists. “When we see a window of opportunity we must take it immediately. If it’s an ECJ case we have to support it. If it is European Parliament, then we must support amendments. Of course from the AEIP the amendments are for promoting the social partner agreement but at the end we are for pan-European schemes, because it is in the interest of the citizen, of the company and finally of Europe.”