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The European Commission is currently undertaking a wide-ranging analysis of the nature of the pension challenges which face Europe through a public consultation entitled Towards adequate, sustainable and safe European pension systems.

These challenges are inextricably linked to issues in the wider economy and wider society and should be tackled through a joined-up, strategic approach at government level which would takes into account all the relevant dynamics and tries to forge a pragmatic way forward. This would involve communicating the message to all concerned, including individual citizens, that pension provision can no longer be taken for granted and needs to be planned and financed.

The EU Commission suggests that the three elements of the strategy agreed at the 2001 Stockholm Council, namely to reduce public debt, raise employment rates and productivity and reform pension, health care and long-term care systems should be linked, and this seems the right way to go. It is clear that some member states’ budget deficits are unsustainable in the long term. If they continue, they will make it increasingly difficult to pay for pensions.

The ability of any pension scheme, whether private or public, to fund retirement benefits will depend to a great extent on the participation of its citizens in the workforce. The EU’s high unemployment rates, which exceeds 40% among young people in some EU countries, exacerbates the long-term financial pressures on governments, and increases the prospect of pensioner poverty in the future. This point is echoed in ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) ’ response to the consultation, in which the global accountancy body stresses that the EU strategy on pensions must be interlinked with efforts to create jobs. For ACCA, it is also essential that all unjustifiable legal and practical barriers to the participation of older workers in the workforce are dismantled, otherwise those workers will be forced to rely on state welfare benefits where those are available. Statutory intervention should however not be the only means for ensuring it and employers should be encouraged – rather than obliged – to make reasonable adjustments to premises or working practices to cater for the needs of older worker and to value their participation.  This process will of course necessitate a certain degree of cultural and attitude change on the part of employers and their younger workforces, but efforts should be concentrated on persuading employers of the business case for that change. collective schemes, which have a great potential for lowering scheme costs – and legal guarantees for supplementary pension benefits where an employer has become insolvent could also -under certain conditions – play a vital role.

It is also vital that people are suitably reassured about the safety and security of the assets held by their pension fund. Gaps in regulatory protections must be addressed – especially in the case of pension providers operating across-border. But any additional regulation of schemes must be very careful not to add to the disincentives which already exist for employers and, on the contrary, should strive to encourage the continuing involvement of employers in the framework of supplementary pension provision.

Confidence could also be engendered through risk sharing: employers should be encouraged to offer

Author :
EurActiv Network