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19-07-2016

Stakeholder Consultation discusses the Single Market for Personal Pensions.

Brian Hayes, MEP speaking at the Stakeholder event
Brian Hayes, MEP speaking at the Stakeholder event

The EPIO Dublin and member of the European Parliament’s Economic Committee, Brian Hayes, held a consultation in Dublin today (Tuesday 19 July) with leaders from a cross section of Irish society to update them on current state-of-play with the Pensions Directive and the implications for pension providers. The consultation took place at 13:00 19 July in the offices of the European Parliament at 12-14 Lower Mount Street, Dublin 2. Participants representing a broad range of stakeholders took part; these included pension scheme trustees, pension fund managers, financial advisors, legal advisors, regulators and civil servants.

Following the meeting Brian Hayes said "This is an important piece of legislation that will affect pensioners and members of pension schemes alike. A key priority is to ensure that the rights and interests of these pensioners and scheme members are protected. The EU needs to be careful when we are dealing with people's savings. We have established in the new legislation that members and pensioners must be informed about all relevant features of their pension schemes and should be consulted if there are decisions taken which will affect their pension pay-outs.

“IORPs, or occupational pension funds, are financial instruments that operate within an agreed social purpose in various EU Member States. This Directive is important for a small number of Member States, in particular Ireland, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. Pension policy is understandably sensitive in these Member States and the Parliament and Council need to respect the fact that the evolution of pensions across the EU differs greatly.

“We have first of all established clear procedure and timelines for how pension schemes can be transferred across borders. When authorising cross-border transfers, regulators in both Member States must authorise the transfer based on a strict set of criteria. The transfer must be approved by members and beneficiaries of the scheme. If there is disagreement between two regulators on whether the transfer should proceed, the new reforms have provided a mediation role for the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority. These procedures have never been set out in EU legislation before and they will create certainty for the pensions industry when they want to establish cross-border schemes.

“Secondly, it was also agreed that we amend funding rules for cross-border funds to allow for a more lenient funding regime. While it has always been the case that cross-border funds must be fully funded at all times, we have now recognised that such funds can go into periods of underfunding. This is important because we need to recognise that being fully funded at all times is an impossibility, particularly given that we have just had a serious financial crisis where pension funds all over Europe were underfunded for a period of time.

“I am optimistic that this Directive will pave the way for a stronger internal market for pensions. But I also feel that this Directive can kick-start a real debate on pensions in many Member States, a debate that is very much needed all over Europe. People are living longer in Europe now and populations are ageing. It is anticipated that there will be one worker for every two pensioners in the EU by 2060; currently there are four pensioners for every worker. At the moment we don’t have the answers as to how we are going to fund pensions into the future. There is a pension time bomb coming down the tracks.

“The Directive is relevant for another reason - there is currently a major shift across Europe from defined benefit schemes, where the member is assured of a certain pension pay-out, to defined contribution schemes, where members assume the investment risk. The crisis has shown that the defined benefit model is not a sustainable way of delivering for all pensioners into the future.

“In Ireland, we have a well-developed occupational pension model. Every day in Ireland people put aside income to make adequate provision for their pension cover into the future. But we have to encourage people to save and manage these schemes to the highest standards. Less than 40% of Irish employees are covered by a workplace pension scheme.

“The negotiated text of this Directive will now go for a vote in the European Parliament which is currently set for October and it will also go for a vote in the European Council later this year.”

ENDS

Notes to the Editor:

Key Reforms of the new IORP Directive:

  • Funding requirements: On funding requirements for pension funds, domestic funds are required to have sufficient and appropriate assets to cover liabilities. For cross-border funds, they are expected to be fully funded at all times. However, it is now stated in the text that cross-border funds can into periods of underfunding and if that happens, adequate measures should be put in place to correct any deficit. This is important as it reflects the reality that all pension funds are susceptible to periods of underfunding.
  • Cross-border pension transfers: When transferring a pension scheme cross-border, regulators in both home and host countries must authorise the transfer based on a strict set of criteria to check that the transfer satisfies the necessary conditions. This is a novel approach that has never been introduced in any other EU legislation. This will prevent regulators from blocking a transfer on arbitrary grounds. Members and beneficiaries of a pension scheme must also authorise a cross-border transfer.
  • Pension Benefit Statement: Through the Directive, there is now a European requirement for every pension fund to draw up a Pension Benefit Statement for its members. The European Commission wanted to harmonise all information provisions in the Pension Benefit Statement, however, Parliament and Council have ensured that the basic minimum information is required at European level and then Member States should decide their own information requirements in order to accommodate their own pension system.
  • Environmental, Social and Governance factors: It has been recognised that pension funds should take into account environmental, social and governance factors and their long-term impact in any investment decisions.
  • Intergenerational Solidarity: It has been recognised in the text that there should be intergenerational solidarity between younger and older members of a pension scheme, i.e. that younger generations should not have to take the whole burden if there are losses in a pension scheme.
  • Risk Assessment: Pension funds must perform a risk assessment at least every 3 years which takes account of the governance of the fund, investment profile, past performance and significant risk factors.
European Commission web site Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision (IORPs)EPRS Briefing note