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‘Very difficult’ for new European Commission to block revised HBS – PensionsEurope

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It will be “very difficult” for the incoming European Commission to reject revised proposals for a holistic balance sheet (HBS) approach drawn up by the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA), the secretary general of PensionsEurope has warned at the National Association of Pension Funds conference.

Matti Leppälä said it was not important to debate whether the regulator had the authority to work on further technical proposals underpinning the working of the HBS only a few months after commissioner for internal markets Michel Barnier admitted defeat and said a forthcoming IORP legislative draft would not include capital requirements

“Their goal is to present to the new European Commission a number of technical proposals for an EU risk-based pension regime that appropriately reflects the specific reality of pension funds,” Leppälä said during a panel at the National Association of Pension Funds conference in Manchester.

He said the new Commission, in place following the 2014 European elections, would be presented with “a huge amount of technical work”.

“It can be very difficult for the new Commission to reject these proposals,” he said. “So when EIOPA is saying it is just doing technical work, it is highly political because there is no such thing in these issues listed here that is just technical – it is very political.”

He added that the potential departure of French politician Barnier, whose country has been one of the powers insisting on capital requirements, did not mean the matter of pillar I would fall off the agenda.

“This is much bigger, and, of course, the real big issues are the underlying accountancy rules and global developments – how to understand and value liabilities,” he said.

However, he noted that problems encountered by insurers in offering their guaranteed products, triggering a re-examination of how liabilities were valued, would potentially help the pension lobby in their work.

“Maybe this is a development that will enable us to really have a new perception on long-term liabilities, whether they are with pension funds or insurers,” he said.

Leppälä was also uncertain whether the blocking minority in the European Parliament would remain – a grouping of seven countries including the UK, Belgium and Germany, whose MPs would be instructed to vote down any proposals.

He said the strength of the coalition could be further eroded both by the shift to defined contribution across member states and the nationalisation and part-nationalisation of mandatory second-pillar funds in Eastern European countries such as Hungary and, more recently, Poland.

He told delegates: “If we end up with a major part of EU member states not having occupational pension funds, I don’t see them defending traditional defined benefit schemes in the older member states either.”

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