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Procedure : 2005/0214(COD)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A6-0080/2007

Texts tabled :

A6-0080/2007

Debates :

PV 20/06/2007 - 2
CRE 20/06/2007 - 2

Votes :

PV 20/06/2007 - 5.4
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P6_TA(2007)0269

Debates
Wednesday, 20 June 2007 - Strasbourg OJ edition

2. Portability of supplementary pension rights (debate)
PV
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  President. – The next item is the report by Mrs Oomen-Ruijten (A6-0080/2007), on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on improving the portability of supplementary pension rights (COM(2005)0507 – C6-0331/2005 – 2005/0214(COD)).

 
  
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  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. (CS) Madam President, honourable Members, I should like to thank Mrs Oomen-Ruijten for her dedication and hard work in drawing up this report.

The report has taken a great deal of hard work, drawing on the combined efforts of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs along with the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, and it represents an important basis for further discussion with a view to reaching a final agreement on this essential directive, which is amply justified in the context of the relaunched Lisbon Strategy and social protection for migrant workers and workers in general who move around the labour market.

In addition to the report itself, I welcome the atmosphere in which Parliament has worked with the Commission and the Council, as this has given us the best possible chance of reaching agreement at first reading.

I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate the German Presidency on their work in addressing this issue and on making genuine progress.

The challenge which this directive presents to the German pension system should not be understated and it is to the credit of the German Presidency and Vice-Chancellor Müntefering that such progress could be made. I must share with you my disappointment, however, that despite all of these efforts agreement has not been reached this time at first reading. I do believe, though, that the constructive approach that has thus far emerged will soon lead to the directive being adopted. This will have a real impact on the obstacles to mobility created by some supplementary pension schemes.

Honourable Members, I should like to stress once again that this directive is not just a collection of words; it directly affects millions of workers who change jobs in the modern labour market and take advantage of the opportunities presented by supplementary pensions. Given that 40% of workers have an employment relationship of under five years, it is clear how important our task is and how important this directive is.

Before I get on to the substance of the report, I should briefly like to recap the purpose and the need for a European approach to this issue. The Commission, the Members of this Chamber, the Council and the social partners have long expressed their dissatisfaction with the glaring inadequacy of the rights and protection conferred on mobile workers as regards the link between their statutory pension contributions and their supplementary pension contributions. As long ago as 1992, the Council urged the Member States to support changes to the conditions attached to supplementary pension rights, so that obstacles to worker mobility could be removed. The concept of obstacles to worker mobility of employees is relatively common, but in principle it means that when you are mobile, you lose out. Under existing schemes, when migrating workers change jobs they are, to a greater or lesser extent, disadvantaged. This sometimes happens almost imperceptibly, but they are never in the same position, with the same advantages as they would have enjoyed had they not decided to change and become mobile.

The first step to achieving this goal was Directive 98/49/EC. It was clear, though, that this directive failed to resolve those issues that, according to the experts in the field, have a particularly detrimental effect on mobility, namely the acquisition and protection of deferred pension rights and the portability of these rights. The proposed directive on the portability of rights in supplementary pensions was not drawn up on a whim, but following a long period of thorough negotiation and consultation, and not without reason. Although at the start the social partners were called on to table proposals, as befitting their fundamental role in providing supplementary pensions, it was quickly demonstrated that the only way of making progress was by means of a targeted legislative approach, with the opinions of the social partners and the key participants taken into account.

A targeted approach of this nature – one that recognises not only the enormous diversity and indeed, on occasion, the rapid development of supplementary pension systems, but also the voluntary nature of these systems – was, and still is, the right way to address this complex and emotive issue. This explains why the Commission prudently decided not to launch the harmonisation process but rather to establish minimum requirements. Apart from this, one of our biggest challenges is to strike the right balance between removing the barriers to mobility and ensuring that the current stable and sustainable environment for the development of supplementary pensions is retained.

If one were to analyse the positive progress and the challenges that we were supposed to have resolved with the development of this directive, it is rather disappointing that at this moment not all Member States in the Council were able to reach an agreement or compromise regarding the elements of this important directive. It is encouraging, however, that the report we are debating today coincides substantially on many issues with the Commission’s opinion. In my view, there is therefore a genuine possibility of reaching agreement with the Council in the near future.

Honourable Members, although the most recent Council negotiations did not reach a conclusion, I feel that every participant can confirm that there was a strong desire to reach agreement and that the Council still shares this desire, which will provide a basis for further progress. Reflecting that spirit of cooperation, I should like to highlight two of the main points of divergence between Parliament and the Council, on which we shall have to negotiate a consensus. The first of these is the key point of the recognition of supplementary rights and what the minimum conditions should be.

I take great interest in the amendments and the decision to focus the legislation on workers over 25. There is a great deal of empirical evidence to show that mobility in this age group is significantly lower than that of younger people, so your amendment is eminently sensible. I am also aware that the Council will not look favourably on the idea of excluding the recognition of rights for those above 25, so this could be one of the areas in which negotiation and compromise are required. Your attempts to reduce obstacles must, however, be applauded and I feel that this is certainly the right way forward.

The second issue that will probably need to be debated between Parliament and the Council is that of the scope of the directive. As regards existing rights and the date by which the directive is to be transposed into national law, the Commission fully supports the substance of the amendments to Article 2 and believes that they are proportionate and sensible. The Commission firmly believes that any restrictions to the scope and thus the effectiveness of the directive should be minimised and supports Parliament in this regard. The recent technical amendment to Article 5 of the report is a reasonable clarification that should prevent misunderstandings over how entitlements should be protected. Article 5 is a key part of this directive and is vital to the aim of removing the barriers to worker mobility.

I should like, if I may, to tell the Members of this Chamber once again that there is no proposal in this directive that would lay down any method for protecting these rights. It is more a question of ensuring that mobile workers are treated fairly in terms of their deferred pension rights. Given the way in which the labour market is developing, and how active working life is gradually being extended, I feel that when we speak about mobile workers, we are actually talking about all workers, because over the course of a career there is absolutely no doubt that most workers change jobs at least once, and will be able to take advantage of the protection that the proposed directive will afford. As for transposing the directive into national law, we share your view that this should happen as soon as possible. At the same time, however, we recognise that any amendments to the directive should not hinder the provision of supplementary pensions in the EU.

Lastly, I warmly welcome the proposals contained in Article 10, the substance of which I wholeheartedly support. The removal of Article 6 on the transferability of rights is, in my view, regrettable. The amendments to Article 10 contained in the report, however, send out a clear message that this complex and highly specialised issue has not been forgotten but merely postponed. In the meantime, the Commission, in conjunction with Parliament and the social partners, is looking into ways in which it would be possible effectively and sustainably to remove any remaining obstacles to mobility in terms of supplementary pension schemes.

Honourable Members, this directive was, politically and intellectually, exceptionally complex, not to mention the complicated nature of the whole concept of the policy. The proposed directive very much forms part of our response to demographic change, because it is clear that supplementary systems will play an increasingly important role in that response. The directive also forms part of the concept of flexicurity, because its method is a typical example of greater mobility allied to responsible social protection. I also feel that this directive generally falls within the overall concept of European social policy, that is to say, at no time and nowhere in the EU should workers be placed in a detrimental situation.

Honourable Members, once again, I would like to thank you for the work that Parliament has done in negotiating this directive.

 
  
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  Günter Gloser, President-in-Office of the Council. – (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the portability of occupational pensions is an issue that has been on the European agenda for over 20 years. The Commissioner has just explained the developments that have taken place in that time, including in respect of migrant workers. Following the failure of an initiative under the so-called social partnership procedure in 2002/2003, the European Commission tabled a proposal for a ‘portability directive’ in October 2005.

The Commission’s proposal comprises the following four key areas: firstly, the transfer of occupational pension rights in the form of a capital sum when there is a change of employer, that is portability in the narrow sense of the word; secondly, stipulating vesting periods for eligibility for occupational pensions; thirdly, the fair and just treatment of eligibility for an occupational pension when a worker leaves a company, and fourthly, information requirements to ensure that workers know about their eligibility and can better plan for their retirement. As Commissioner Špidla said, this also affects the issue of flexicurity.

The directive regulates part of social and labour law and – it is important to stress this – it therefore needs unanimity. This, as much as anything else, got the negotiations off to a very difficult start, although with such a highly complex subject it was hardly surprising. In addition, the European Union does not just wear one size of suit; there is huge variety and almost every Member State has its own occupational pension system that usually does not fit the others.

The central regulatory area of the directive, the transfer of occupational pension capital to a new employer, was therefore considered to be highly problematic by many Member States. The Netherlands rejected this possibility from the outset. As early as the Finnish Presidency portability in the narrow sense of the word was therefore deleted from the proposal for a directive. The need for unanimity made it pointless to continue negotiations on this point.

The subsequent German Presidency focused on fleshing out the details of just and fair treatment, the arrangements for the information requirement and the scope of the directive in terms of both substance and timing. After intensive discussions and many bilateral meetings at technical level, it was possible to reach an agreement on all points. Ultimately, however, the necessary unanimity was not achieved in the Council of Ministers, which I very much regret. One Member State in particular found its hands politically tied when its parliament and cabinet rejected the proposals.

Given these fundamental political reservations on the design of the original proposal, it would most probably also be very difficult to achieve the necessary unanimity for the directive in the future as well.

Through this directive we want to promote workers’ mobility. At the same time, however, we also need to improve their retirement provision. To do so we not only need majority support from the European Parliament but also the agreement of the 27 Member States. Perhaps we will achieve more if the first step is less ambitious. It takes time for the necessary trust to grow, for the countries without occupational pension schemes to introduce them and for the countries with distinctive systems not to feel cheated. In this situation I believe that maximum demands are counterproductive. All they actually do is provoke automatic rejection in the Member States and they do not allow progress to be made. As with all decisions in the European Union, agreement is only possible if everyone first has the political will to agree.

 
  
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  Ria Oomen-Ruijten (PPE-DE), rapporteur. (NL) Madam President, to say that this is a difficult issue is an understatement. We have been working on nine articles for nearly two years. European agreements for supplementary pensions are needed for three reasons.

First of all, legal pensions, the first pillar, are increasingly coming under pressure due to the number of young people falling and the number of old people rising. This is why sound agreements need to be in place for second-pillar pensions. At present, one in ten employees in Europe has a supplementary pension. In Great Britain and Germany, this percentage is well above the 50% mark and in Denmark, Sweden or the Netherlands, even 90% of the employees have signed up to a supplementary pension scheme. This is therefore sufficient cause to encourage Member States and social partners to face up to their responsibility and to start putting an effective scheme in place that provides for old age.

Secondly, nearly every day, I come across people who have changed jobs and who are penalised for this, because they exercise their right to freedom of mobility. They have built up a pension, the premiums have been paid, but if the capital does not change, then it is of no use to them when they retire. This directive intends to address this problem.

Thirdly, within the framework of the Lisbon Agenda, we preach that worker mobility should be further promoted. Everybody would like to see this principle applied, but we have problems implementing it. My goal was, and still is, to table legislation that brings something, not least for employees, that is realistic for the Member States and social partners and also offers sufficient scope to managers of supplementary pension schemes to adapt to it. Legislation that only contains exceptions or an act that does not apply to all Member States and does not enter into force until 2018 is of no use. We have to tackle the problems of the future now.

I should like to extend warm thanks, particularly to Mr Ettl and Mr Cocilovo, to the other shadow rapporteurs for social affairs, to Mrs Lulling for the advice, but also to the rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs of previous pension reports, Mr Karas and Mrs van den Burg. Together, we stand by a result and also take responsibility for this report by the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.

We can – and I also have the Council Presidency in mind when I say this – make progress on this basis without encroaching on existing schemes. Moreover, this directive is about minimum standards. There is nothing stopping the social partners from offering more protection in an agreement.

I should now like to quickly outline the key points. With regard to acquisition, the conditions of acquisition which Parliament prescribes affect some schemes. Time is needed to adapt, and Amendment 22 provides for this additional time of five years.

With regard to dormant pension rights, as the current formula has been developed in cooperation with the German Presidency, we will soon be voting on a basic principle which the Member States will be able to flesh out as they see fit. Concerning the transfer, as it became obvious very quickly that this was a bridge too far, we did not pursue this option any further. In respect of information, workers are gaining easier access to the status of their pensions.

It may well be, therefore, that Member States need more time to adjust their schemes, which is precisely what this House is giving them. Member States, together with the social partners, are being given until 2013 to adapt their schemes in the areas of both acquisition and the fair adjustment of dormant pension rights.

After two years of nearly constant consultation, the time has come for this House to nail its colours to the mast. I should like to add that the signals that I have picked up, not least from the forthcoming Portuguese Presidency and from my own Member State the Netherlands, are definitely positive, because this report offers many things to go on at second reading.

If we want to achieve the Lisbon objectives, we can only do this on the basis of specific topics of this kind. We did not manage to finish it today. We will negotiate with the Council, and I as rapporteur and we as Parliament will try to continue to adopt the most constructive stance possible in order to settle this matter, for that is what is really needed.

 
  
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  Eoin Ryan (UEN), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. Madam President, I also wish to congratulate Mrs Oomen-Ruijten on her work on this very difficult and complex piece of legislation, which, as has already been said, has been going around for about 15 to 20 years.

However, as draftsman of an opinion on this report for the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, I see it as vital that citizens can take the benefit of their supplementary pension plans with them when they take up a new job in another company or in another Member State, and the single market is going to see a huge increase in the number of people moving from Member State to Member State.

This legislation must ensure that the workers changing jobs are not unduly penalised and that the value of their pension is fairly adjusted on moving to new employment.

In addition, we have to appreciate the fact that employers providing these supplementary pension schemes are doing so on a voluntary basis. Therefore, any unnecessary financial pressure stemming from the provision of such schemes should be minimised. Balancing the objectives of these two goals is, however, no easy task, but I believe that the compromise texts of the Finnish and German Presidencies are a step in the right direction.

I believe that if workers are encouraged to be mobile and flexible, then they cannot be unduly punished through their pensions if they change jobs. Currently, moving to a new job or to work in another country can lead to significant losses. On top of that, we must ensure that when somebody takes their money out of a pension scheme, the workers who remain in that pension scheme will not lose out.

One of the biggest and most complex challenges facing each of the Member States over the next decade will be how we tackle the effect of our ageing population. Pensions are going to become – if they have not already become – a huge issue in Member States. Considering that this piece of legislation has been on the table for the last 15 to 20 years, it is high time that appropriate action is taken on this issue and we make sure that workers are fairly treated and fairly looked after in their pension schemes if they move from one Member State to another or from one company to another.

 
  
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  Astrid Lulling (PPE-DE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. – (FR) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, if one is, like me, rapporteur for the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality and a member of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, one often finds oneself, so to speak, out at sea, that is, in God’s hands. That is what happened to me with my draft opinion. In its adopted form, I can scarcely recognise my baby.

What I had recommended at the beginning of the work on this much debated Proposal for a Directive, has either disappeared already because it was rejected by a majority of those who happened to be present in the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, or it was not taken up by the committee responsible. I can, therefore, only regret that I find no trace left of the most important proposal from the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, which stressed that the Directive should be implemented in a way that respects directives relating to equality of treatment and equality of opportunities for women and men.

As for the substance, the most stormy discussions began after the adoption of my opinion, which was a year ago, and the intention of which was to ensure that employed persons could retain their pension rights and could carry on paying their contributions when they changed job or interrupted or ceased a professional activity, either for family reasons, or to better reconcile professional life and family life.

I shall not go into detail about the quarrels that are still going on, about, among other things, employers who offer supplementary pensions as a way of developing staff loyalty, while this directive is part of a perspective encouraging workers’ mobility. I know that it will not be easy to reconcile these two viewpoints but I should like to say that the main objective, that is, guaranteeing acquired rights under acceptable conditions, which do not call into question the financial sustainability of the schemes nor the offer of supplementary pension schemes by employers, must be achieved for those employed persons who change employer within a Member State or outside of it, thereby respecting principles of subsidiarity and flexibility.

 
  
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  Othmar Karas, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, we all say yes to the internal market and it is right that it should be extended because it is the most effective way in which we can respond to globalisation. We all say yes to mobility, but it is insufficiently developed in the European Union. Strengthening the internal market and supporting mobility mean, however, that we must remain vigilant about retaining the social security safety net. We need to strengthen occupational retirement provision – the second pillar – in Europe, as an addition to the first pillar, not as a replacement for it. That is why we supported the pension funds directive for funded occupational retirement provision. Obviously we also need a portability directive for intra-company pension rights.

Through this directive we must ensure that workers maintain the rights that they have acquired. There is therefore a need to clarify concepts such as transferability – easier with new contracts than with old ones – the acquiring of rights, the treatment of workers who are no longer active in the scheme and dormant rights. On what basis are calculations made? How do we assess contributions, both their size and the length of time over which they have been made? How do we deal with the expected payout period? It is about striking a balance between companies’ economic security and workers’ social security, and it is about striking a balance between those who stay in the company and those who leave the company because of job security or to further their careers.

Today’s vote will not be the end of the matter. Parliament is adopting a position as a basis for further negotiations. We want a solution, but we want a solution that treats both aspects, the companies’ point of view and social security, on an equal footing and finds a compromise. I would therefore ask you to support the resolution from the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.

 
  
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  Harald Ettl, on behalf of the PSE Group. (DE) Madam President, I should like to extend special thanks to Mrs Oomen-Ruijten for her excellent work. If the representative of the German Presidency spoke of ‘maximum requirements’ today then that is surely a gross exaggeration, devoid of any foundation.

The proposal for a directive should be seen as part of the Lisbon Agenda. It meets the demands of workers to have their rights to acquire and maintain pension rights protected as well as their rights to supplementary pensions, now that the barriers to the free movement of workers have been removed. A period of five years is provided for the Member States to adjust and redesign their systems to ensure fair treatment of dormant rights.

This point in Article 5 is a core component of the proposed directive. If Mr Mann’s amendment to it is accepted, then the proposal will be stripped of its substance and the bill will be worthless to workers. We pass economic laws and make impressive speeches about good social conditions, but then do the opposite. Proceeding along the extreme lines proposed by Mr Mann is unacceptable for the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, because these points are directed at the core components and key areas covered by the proposed directive.

I would ask you to support the rapporteur’s proposal for a forward-looking solution.

 
  
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  Luigi Cocilovo, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, it also gives me pleasure to thank the rapporteur, as well as the many Members who have worked as shadow rapporteurs, for their efforts and their work on this highly complex issue.

I would like, however, to be clear on the fact that the complexity escapes nobody. Nobody is unaware of the distinctions between the various types of fund: redistribution funds, capitalisation funds, defined contribution and defined benefits funds, funds that are actually company funds and funds managed through the accumulation of contribution reserves on the company’s books. It is therefore difficult to find solutions which do not take account of this high degree of differentiation. It is also true, however, that on this issue we all ought to have shown greater consistency.

I refer in particular to the Council, which in my view is turning into a bog that sucks in and smothers all Parliament’s efforts to make balanced and consistent progress on social issues. This is true, for example, with regard to the Working Time Directive and the directives adopted by Parliament on the regulation of temporary employment agencies. To the extent practicable we have made some progress, although of course we have had to accept inevitable compromises, if not outright butchery, but we have not made any progress at all on portability. Once again the problem is being postponed.

On this point, we hope that those timid but positive steps forward designed to guarantee some minimum threshold requirements are not swept away too. These include, for example, the pension entitlement conditions for workers covered by the second pillar, the conditions for the reimbursement of contributions paid on behalf of workers exiting schemes before acquiring vested pension rights, and the conditions regarding the treatment of workers exiting schemes who leave their contributions within the fund, insofar as there is in substance a postponement of the payment of benefits, but there are already acquired rights relating to equity in these benefits. On these points, in some cases the minimum thresholds identified in the report are still subject to criticism or have been questioned.

In the future we will have to take a different approach to tackle problems like these – one that ensures that we can offer workers involved in mobility issues at least the certainty that they will not be discriminated against or penalised. I believe, however, that any solution that falls below the thresholds indicated would be so negative that the traumatic solution of a rejection within Parliament would be preferable. We hope that at least the compromise reached between these thresholds can be maintained in relations with the Council.

 
  
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  Jean Lambert, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Madam President, I would also like to thank the rapporteur for her work. Getting us to this vote has not been easy, as we have heard, because we have been forced to respond to changing and sometimes intransigent positions from the Council.

My group will support a number of the committee amendments, notably those that change the scope from workers to persons, which will certainly help cover certain particular cases. We expect this directive to cover all who have contributed to these second-pillar schemes through their work, and to be non-discriminatory in application. We shall not, therefore, be supporting Amendment 34 or the amendments from one other political group.

We have heard that mobility is seen as increasingly important. Indeed, it is a fact of life. Flexicurity is a buzzword in our discussions, and mobile workers need a background of security, of which pension provision is a part. They need to be able to spread their pension risk, but individual pensions have their problems, as our debate on Equitable Life this week has shown. It should be a warning to all Member States tending to rely only on state and private pensions, without a work-based pillar. As we know, there is no requirement to introduce such schemes in this proposal, so those Member States should not put barriers in the way of others.

People should be able to benefit from the accrual of pension payments and not see their contributions left in various schemes like drying slices of salami, hence Amendment 48 to reintroduce portability, the core of this proposal. We know that there is no majority support, but we want to put down a marker to let the Council know that it really has to get to grips with this issue, because it is an increasing necessity. Its current approach seems, to many of us, to be a delaying tactic and, at times, a betrayal of their own calls for greater mobility.

We need rules to protect the dormant rights of scheme members, so we cannot support Amendment 38, which we see as a wrecking amendment not in the interests of citizens. We will support the committee position on this point. However, we have problems with the age-related provisions in Article 4 and the lengthy vesting periods in the committee amendments. We find them discriminatory and, in spite of what the Commission has told us, we believe that increased mobility for the over-25s will be a continuation of what is happening now. Amendment 47 is therefore based on the legal age at which Member States allow people to work full time, which is 15 in at least one case. We cannot support going beyond the Commission proposal.

We also want to see early implementation, hence Amendment 49. However, the Council has to take on its responsibility and deliver a proposal which reflects its rhetoric and improves the situation of those changing employment within the European Union.

 
  
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  Jiří Maštálka, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(CS) Ladies and gentlemen, I should like to begin by congratulating the rapporteur for this major piece of work – she has in effect rewritten the whole of the Commission’s original proposal.

I feel, however, that she has unfortunately not managed to resolve some key differences and to draw up a compromise text that would be acceptable to all – as we can see from the persistent negative approach of some Member States. It is also a pity, in my view, despite the lengthy negotiations over the draft, the Council proved unable to find a common position.

As far as I am concerned, the Commission’s original proposal strikes me as much more appropriate to the sections of the population in question than the rapporteur’s proposal, because it offers pension holders more rights. It is hard to understand why the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats continues to endorse the rapporteur’s proposal even though the most important part was left out, namely the transferability of pension rights from one Member State to another. Our political group welcomes the removal of Article 6 on the transfer of rights, not only on the grounds of the tax issues, the absence of a Community-wide calculation scheme and the absence of minimal standards on index policy, but mainly because the transfer of pension rights would lead to higher costs for individual pension holders.

Our group objects in particular to the points adopted by the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, because they significantly undermine the Commission’s original proposal, for example, by raising the minimum age for implementing these rights from 21 to 25 years, narrowing the range of people granted these rights, removing self-employed people from the draft and extending to five years the time which people must be in the system in order for them to claim this entitlement.

Along with other MEPs from our group – the Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left – I have tabled a number of amendments that should at least improve upon these most important points. Our vote on the proposal as a whole will be determined by whether or not our amendments are adopted.

 
  
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  Derek Roland Clark, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. Madam President, when four pensions experts attended a meeting of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs in May last year, they were not happy with this directive. They said that it did not sufficiently respect subsidiarity and was too much too soon.

The Employment Committee itself is at odds over it. Never before have I seen one Member standing over another haranguing and shouting at them. That is because this matter is very complex, as a result of the different attitudes the Member States have towards pensions. There are different systems, hence the complexity.

I am all in favour of people moving about and taking their pensions with them, building on them as they go, but let the pensions firms sort it out. That is what they are there for. They have got the expertise – let them have the headache. After all, we even have a Services Directive now, which is supposed to help in this area.

I therefore ask Members to support my own rejection amendment. You will be in good company: it has already been rejected in the Council, so the dossier is destined to gather dust on a top shelf somewhere.

 
  
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  Luca Romagnoli, on behalf of the ITS Group. (IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the right to free movement between the Union’s Member States with regard to supplementary pensions should not be hampered. Neither the pension systems of each Member State nor the conditions for acquiring pension rights ought to cast doubt upon the portability of acquired rights.

Europe’s population is living longer on average and, as Mrs Oomen-Ruijten rightly pointed out, supplementary pensions are increasingly important throughout the Union, especially if we wish to guarantee the quality of life of an elderly population within the context of a European social model which, although it could be improved, is still a system that is not found on any other continent.

It is therefore vital to improve further the mechanisms for acquiring supplementary pensions and their portability, without countenancing anything less than what seems to be barely sufficient. Specifically, it would be appropriate to extend the scope of application to all group supplementary schemes. Personally, I would have liked this report to have made the principles laid down applicable to invalidity and survivors’ pensions too.

With regard to the required contribution period, I agree on the five-year minimum entitlement period and on the other conditions laid down by the amendments which govern this entitlement. The requirements for dealing with the vested supplementary pension rights of outgoing workers seem to be balanced, although I believe that further progress ought to be made in improving the portability of rights.

To conclude, we are living through times in which the Member States are trying to combine flexibility and mobility in employment, to an extent that I believe is excessive, with incentives for accessing social security.

In this context, the concerns of young people about their pension futures and about the great difficulty in maintaining a decent quality of life in old age should not only be repeatedly proclaimed but should also be seriously tackled by the institutions, particularly since it has been shown that pension schemes with defined contributions are less likely to provide pensions commensurate with the cost of living. As the rapporteur and many fellow Members maintain, mobility in employment ought to be better rewarded, above all in terms of integrated pension assurances.

 
  
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  Jim Allister (NI). – Madam President, in an age when few jobs are for life, when state pension schemes are generally inadequate, when worker mobility is uninhibited, and when Europe has a notably ageing population, deficiencies in pension arrangements are of increasing significance for many of our constituents. Thus what can be done to ensure adequate and flexible pension regimes should be done.

Supplementary pensions for many are an essential part of their financial planning, thus the rules governing them should not be stifling, nor should they be restrictive. Nor should they afford the opportunity for government grab by stealth taxes, something with which we are familiar in the United Kingdom.

My primary plea, however, is that in promoting the mobility of pensions we do not merely impose another layer of EU regulation. Remember, these are voluntary arrangements. Member States must retain control of what happens in their own countries where there are different regimes and different practices.

 
  
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  Thomas Mann (PPE-DE).(DE) Madam President, in the internal market, workers’ mobility is supposed to be promoted and not impeded. That also applies to occupational pension rights when workers change jobs. However, the systems do not all share the same characteristics. In France and Spain they are predominantly intended for managers. In Member States such as Austria, Luxembourg and Germany they are a voluntary benefit. The idea is to tie qualified staff into the company for the long term. Company loyalty is therefore rewarded. In Germany alone their value is EUR 250 billion.

What the Member States have achieved on their own should not, however, be destroyed by forced harmonisation at European level. Excessively high minimum standards and excessively high costs prevent both new occupational systems from being created and existing ones from being maintained. The EU average is 10%. My amendments, which are supported by the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, are a contribution to increasing that figure.

Firstly, I am in favour of reducing the minimum age to 25 years. The Commission wants 21 years. The report fails to indicate any age at all. That will not work! Younger workers change employer frequently, leading to a whole host of tiny pensions and huge administrative costs.

Secondly, contrary to Mr Ettl’s view, the five-year vesting period supports the position of the German Presidency, which has made great efforts to achieve an agreement. The two years called for by the Commission will increase costs by 20%. The Commission is aware of this. The Committee on Employment and Social Affairs does not want any period at all. Who is going to pay?

Thirdly, along with 80 other Members, I am in favour of deleting indexation. Treating workers who have left the company in exactly the same way as those who are in the company will increase costs by 30%. The Dutch Minister of Social Affairs and Employment fears a financial debacle for his country, where 90% of all employees are eligible for occupational pensions.

Occupational pensions only have a future if they are feasible and affordable. If my group’s amendments are not accepted then I would recommend rejecting the entire report.

 
  
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  Jan Andersson (PSE). – (SV) Madam President, I would like to start by thanking the rapporteur, Mrs Oomen-Ruijten for her constructive and well-balanced proposal.

Supplementary pensions are important in many Member States and will become ever more important in the future. I think that the balance struck in the proposal is a sound one. On the one hand, geographic freedom of movement between the Member States is ensured and, on the other, account is taken of a variety of systems.

Some people maintain that this directive is unnecessary. On the contrary, it really is needed. Many of our systems around Europe have been created on the basis of a labour market that once looked quite different. We currently have a flexible labour market within our countries, between different companies and across national borders, so pension systems too need to be changed.

I have always, and for a variety of reasons, been opposed to the right to move pensions, and I approve of its having been removed. We have different tax systems, and life expectancy varies from country to country. Moreover, a right to move pensions could sometimes also lead to those who remain in a particular fund seeing that fund undermined. It is more important to do what we have proposed, namely to concentrate on dormant rights so that those who leave a fund are not discriminated against but have their rights fully recognised.

I think that the qualification period and the minimum age should be as low as possible, for they are an obstacle to movement. On this matter, we have struck a balance in Parliament that anticipates our in the long term removing both qualification periods and minimum ages.

The conditions for reaching an agreement will be good if Parliament votes in favour of the proposal by Mrs Oomen-Ruijten and the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. We have tried to conduct a dialogue with the Council, and our positions are not far removed from each other. I hope that we shall approve our position. I believe that doing so would also be an incentive for the Council and would make it possible to arrive at an agreement at second reading.

 
  
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  Ona Juknevičienė (ALDE). – (LT) Madam President, colleagues, today we are considering a very important directive which should strengthen the freedom of workers to choose suitable employment. It should become yet another stimulus for strengthening the Community's labour market competitiveness. I congratulate Mrs Oomen Ruijten, who has prepared this document, and I hope that in voting a majority of Parliament will support her.

Honourable Member, I congratulate you on your efforts to encourage worker mobility and to abolish all the obstacles that hinder it. This directive is a step toward revitalising the labour market, stimulating investments and competition, and strengthening social guarantees for workers.

Community members have the right to decide whether to have supplementary pension systems. At present, seven of the ten Member States that joined in 2004 do not have them. This includes Lithuania. In some countries supplementary pension systems are not widespread and include only an insignificant portion of employees. I hope that those countries, which do not have an employer-contributed pension system, will come to understand the advantages thereof, and will make use of their neighbours' experience to institute such systems for their own populations.

In seeking to help the proposed directive to achieve its goal, it is very important that employer-contributed supplementary pension systems are encouraged and accrued funds are portable not just within each country, but within the whole Community. It is also very important that employers should have the right to choose pension systems and modes of portability that are cost-effective and do not entail financial loss.

I support the rapporteur's opinion that this directive should be applied as widely as possible, and that there should not be any exceptions to the requirement that the rights be portable. Flexible and effective portability of pensions is an additional social guarantee for workers and a motivation to use one's knowledge and abilities appropriately. This in turn abolishes one more obstacle to mobility and frees up the potential of the whole European Union labour market, thereby increasing competition.

 
  
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  Elisabeth Schroedter (Verts/ALE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, Mr President-in-Office, ladies and gentlemen, it is regrettable that, particularly in the country that I know best, this issue is still being treated in accordance with the completely outdated view that occupational pensions are a reward for long service to a company. This has not been the case for some time. Occupational pensions are in fact the second pillar of retirement provision, and they are often agreed collectively in connection with wage cuts; as such they are part and parcel of today’s living and working biographies. These biographies are characterised by mobility, career breaks and a wide variety of working conditions. In the lower income brackets it is barely possible to survive on the state pension nowadays.

As a response to this reality the Commission proposal on the transferability of occupational pensions is consistent, logical and ambitious. Now that mobility is, firstly, desired and, secondly, an essential part of any career, it is inconceivable that both transferability and dormant rights should be deleted from a directive on occupational pensions. Anyone with this intention robs the younger generation of the opportunity to build up their own retirement provision. Anyone with this intention places a future burden on the public purse, because after a long but eventful working life people will be driven into poverty.

I very much regret the fact that the Member States were not sufficiently willing to take this bold step forwards with the Commission. Part of the blame for the failure in the Council lies with the German Presidency for tabling an unacceptable proposal, and it should not hide behind the Netherlands.

Even if there is still not majority support for transferability today, in the long term we must continue our efforts to secure retirement provision for the next generation, and we must achieve this goal together, if necessary one small step at a time.

 
  
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  Mary Lou McDonald (GUE/NGL). – Madam President, I too would like to congratulate Mrs Oomen-Ruijten on her work. I also share her view that of course what this Parliament wants and what the citizens of Europe need is a result on this matter, because unquestionably, workers are more mobile for all sorts of reasons, and that is something that is to be encouraged and supported.

I find myself in the position of supporting the Commission’s original proposal over and beyond the report that is in front of us. I find it inexplicable as to why the age threshold of 21 years is suggested to be raised to 25. I accept that workers very often leave it until much later to even consider their pension entitlement, but I think as a rule of thumb we should be encouraging people to make those provisions and consider those matters at the earliest possible point, so in our group we will be supporting amendments to change those age-related provisions.

In addition, I cannot understand why the self-employed are not also covered in these provisions. I think that is very worrying and again our group will vote in accordance with that concern.

 
  
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  Kathy Sinnott (IND/DEM). – Madam President, the revelations from the investigation into Equitable Life have left many people questioning the security of their pensions. When people make sacrifices in their working years to set aside funds for their retirement, they do it for one reason and one reason alone: their own security and that of their family. With demographic projection showing an ageing Europe, people feel they cannot trust their future to state pensions. States will be pragmatic and do what they have to do when over a third of their population is over 65. Today’s workers look at the state pension programmes as a foundation on which to build their incomes by supplementary schemes for what might be 20, 30 or even 40 years of life after retirement.

I recognise that it is difficult to find a balance of protecting existing pension situations while creating a framework that will withstand the kind of pressure that will mount on pensions as Europe ages and that will also ensure that pensioners do not spend their entire retirement fighting to get their money back, having set it aside during their working years.

 
  
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  José Albino Silva Peneda (PPE-DE).(PT) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to begin by commending Mrs Oomen-Ruijten on her outstanding report. The proposals contained in the report are adventurous, well-balanced and prudent, and clearly targeted at developing greater freedom of movement with more protection, a vital component of the European project.

Ladies and gentlemen, the globalisation of the economy and the ageing population are two issues to which Europe has yet to find a clear and convincing response. A more globalised economy implies readiness for change, and that means greater mobility. Workers’ mobility entails guaranteeing the acquisition, retention and transfer of pension rights, and is crucial to the development of the internal market.

On the other hand, in view of the ageing population, with the inherent, predictable increase in public spending that that implies, it is essential to guarantee the financial sustainability of social security models, a task that will be easier to achieve if the conditions are in place for there to be supplementary schemes to State-funded pensions. This is very much the way things are going, in view of demographic change and the financial pressure it has exerted on the public authorities.

The greatest challenge facing the EU is that of upholding the core values that underpin the European social model whilst remaining competitive on the world stage. We will only achieve this if we take political action and if we are able to rework some aspects of the social model, and to take strong action to deepen the internal market, in particular as regards the freedom of movement of, in this case, persons. In this regard, today’s proposal is a very positive and encouraging sign.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MRS MORGANTINI
Vice-President

 
  
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  Karin Jöns (PSE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, Mr President-in-Office, ladies and gentlemen, I should like firstly to congratulate Mrs Oomen-Ruijten very warmly on her excellent work. We simply cannot require workers to show increasing flexibility in the labour market and at the same time ask them to do more to provide for their own retirement, without giving many of them an opportunity to acquire occupational or supplementary pension rights. Around 20% of workers are now only offered temporary job contracts. As the Commissioner has already said, 40% now spend less than five years working for the same company. Against this background, describing occupational pensions as rewards for loyalty, as is the case in my country for example, is nothing short of cynical.

The timing of the provisions urgently needs to be improved. Anyone who wants to keep long vesting periods and on top of that exclude dormant rights from the scope of the directive altogether, while at the same time delaying the entry into force of such an impoverished directive until 2018, has still not arrived in the real world. I actually wanted to say all of this to my fellow Member Mr Mann, but he has already left the Chamber.

It is surely no accident that the positions of the Commission and Parliament are so close here. Our population is ageing and we have to act accordingly. In my country in 1970, for example, for every pension there were still eight people in work, but in 2030 there will only be two. That is why we urgently need to slam on the brakes. We must make it possible for all workers to have a genuine opportunity to make proper provision for their retirement themselves. Obviously employers must bear part of the responsibility. You cannot tell me that the rules that we are proposing – as they stand in the Oomen-Ruijten report – are going to drive umpteen thousand companies into bankruptcy.

 
  
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  Anne E. Jensen (ALDE). – (DA) Madam President, Commissioner, Mr President-in-Office of the Council, I too think that the proposal put forward by Mrs Oomen-Ruijten today is a constructive one, and I would like to thank her. The proposal takes full account of mobility in the labour market, without undermining existing schemes of mutual support such as the Danish labour market pensions. Sympathetic though one might be to rules such as those proposed by the Commission that would make it possible to freely transfer one’s pension scheme, it is difficult to find a model that dovetails with existing arrangements. I therefore believe that the solution we have arrived at, which does not include the transfer of pensions, is a good one.

In Denmark we have rules that guarantee the right of employees to transfer their pensions free of charge in the first two years after they have changed jobs and that place a ceiling on the expenses that pension companies can charge when a pension is transferred. That does not of course stop each individual EU country from similarly developing its own rules for the transfer of pensions. The proposal we have before us guarantees the individual saver’s basic pension rights and includes rules governing the earning of pension entitlements and governing dormant rights and the provision of information. That is the least we must demand. Moreover, for those who cross national borders in order to change jobs, this legislation is particularly important.

 
  
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  Kyriacos Triantaphyllides (GUE/NGL).(EL) Madam President, the proposal for a directive we are debating promotes uncertainty, adaptation to easy dismissal and retraining and recruitment in other work on uncertain terms, on the basis of the unilateral needs of the market, rather than full, permanent, regulated work with rights. Nonetheless, the European Commission has re-tabled the proposal, playing a political game at the expense of the citizens in order to secure its approval.

The proposal is intended to remove what it considers to be obstacles in relation both to free movement between Member States and mobility within a Member State, obstacles that are created by certain provisions in the supplementary pension systems. These obstacles relate to the terms on which pension rights are acquired, the terms on which dormant pension rights are retained and the portability of fundamental rights. All these are, of course, being dumbed down. That is why, unfortunately, we shall not be supporting this proposal.

 
  
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  Jens-Peter Bonde (IND/DEM). – (DA) Madam President, in Denmark we have pension savings amounting to more than DKK 2 200 billion, which have been accumulated through tax allowances. Now along comes the European Court of Justice with a judgment prohibiting us from taxing pension savings accumulated in other countries. We are now to allow full tax allowances with no guarantee of tax receipts later. The June Movement would like to see free competition with a view to providing people with the largest possible pension payments for their contributions, but it must be fair competition.

We also want to retain our tax-funded social model with equal social entitlements for all. For example, we provide people with retirement pensions whether or not they have been in the labour market. It is a civic entitlement earned simply by living in Denmark. If we are to provide retirement pensions to everyone who settles in Denmark, such pensions will quickly be reduced. An arrangement whereby a Danish married couple is able to take their State pension and early retirement pension with them, untaxed, to a tax haven would be so expensive for society that it would have an impact on the size of those pensions.

The EU needs to take more account of the distinctive Danish social model, with its high taxes and correspondingly high social benefits. We need practical rules enabling people to take their pensions with them if they move to another country, but those who move away must not have their pensions paid for by everyone else who pays tax. The June Movement calls on the Council and the Commission to respect our tax-funded social rights.

 
  
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  Csaba Őry (PPE-DE). – (HU) As you are also aware, we celebrated the Year of Mobility in Europe in 2006. Representatives of European institutions, representatives of Member State administrations, organisations representing employers and employees expressed their views at numerous professional events about how important it is to promote mobility within the European Union.

Based on this, it would seem that every EU institution, the European Commission, Council, Parliament and every Member State have definitely committed themselves in general and in principle to improving mobility. However, this is only true for as long as this important issue is discussed in general terms. As soon as a decision has to be made about specific measures or regulations, the enthusiasm which the decision-makers have talked about during the general discussion of this topic vanishes, as if by magic. The main focus is on the concerns and problems. This is also the feeling we can get when discussing the new legislation aimed at guaranteeing the portability of supplementary pensions.

Fellow Members, there are many who are in favour of preserving the status quo and complete inertia. They refer to how there is a historical model in Germany, which you cannot alter even in the slightest. I am all for showing great respect for historical traditions. In this instance, however, we are talking about the interests of all Europe’s workers and the entire European economy. I definitely think that this matter has a higher priority. We cannot allow the momentum of European development to be disrupted because of such particular interests, which, when taken into consideration, means that several tens of millions of workers in a given Member State should suffer serious discrimination in relation to the rest of the EU's workers.

Promoting mobility, guaranteeing the portability of supplementary pensions are issues which, at any rate, must be settled at EU level. If we fail to do this we are likely to fall further behind in the global competitive environment which we are competing in against our challengers in the form of the economies of South-East Asia, India and North America. We need to see that inevitable events are in progress and that making arrangements which extend beyond borders and workforces is of paramount importance. ‘It is a must’, as the English say. I would therefore ask you also to support this. I would like to make an additional, final remark. Pensions and investments affect workers personally, especially when companies are paying for them.

 
  
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  Alejandro Cercas (PSE). – (ES) Madam President, I shall carry on where Mr Őry left off, because I wish to express the same concerns and satisfactions, and I too would like to congratulate the committee, the rapporteur, Mrs Oomen-Ruijten, on having been so brave and having walked into this minefield with conviction and with the will to move forward and to remove the obstacles that we have been facing.

It is crucial that our words are consistent with our actions. It is crucial that we remove the obstacles to the mobility and free movement of workers. We have said it, Lisbon has said it and the Council has said it a thousand times, but we are making no progress. It is also crucial to respect and safeguard the rights of workers who are mobile and who move within the Community and within our own countries.

I would therefore like to express my concern at the difficulties within the Council and the difficulties that may also arise in Parliament today. I am concerned, firstly, because, once again, the Council is dashing our reasonable and minimal hopes. Minimal progress is being blocked as a result of national issues and national self-interest. I am worried because this is not the first time, nor will it be the last time, that the ladies and gentlemen of the Council have turned a deaf ear to the demands of the Europeans. I am worried because it is said that the work that Parliament has done is going to serve as a basis for subsequent work, when Parliament’s consensuses do not do any good in terms of unblocking the Council's positions. I am worried because those same problems in the Council are being transferred to Parliament and we are having a difficult vote today.

Let us hope, Mrs Oomen-Ruijten, that the amendments intended to restrain your report do not succeed and that your reasonable and minimal report is supported by everybody and can serve as a basis for continued progress, which Europe needs very much and which is being demanded by the citizens, of whose views our governments do not take sufficient notice.

 
  
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  Anneli Jäätteenmäki (ALDE). – (FI) Madam President, it must be possible to transfer pensions from one country to another. The freedom of movement of workers from one country to the next depends on people being able to receive their pensions without problems, without a lot of red tape, and without any application procedure.

I am therefore in favour of eliminating the problems associated with supplementary pensions for the free movement of the workforce. The transfer of supplementary pensions from one pensions system to another, however, is a laborious process. It increases bureaucracy and costs. Future European Union legislation should not make it possible to transfer supplementary pension rights. Besides, there is a simpler solution: each supplementary pension system should pay the employee the pensions which have accrued in its system separately. This will be a simpler, more effective and cheaper solution for employees, the recipients of pensions and the pension systems themselves.

 
  
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  Dimitrios Papadimoulis (GUE/NGL).(EL) Madam President, if we want to safeguard the mobility of workers, we must also safeguard the portability of their rights. We cannot have workers being moved and their pension rights and entitlements acquired from years of working in their home country being lost through mobility. There are huge obstacles and problems here from neoliberal policies.

I should like to thank Mrs Oomen-Ruijten on her important work, but I regret that our political group cannot agree with the report in its final form, because on the most basic material issue regulated by the new directive, namely the terms on which supplementary pension rights are acquired, the report worsens the Commission's initial proposal by calling for a five-year rather than a two-year vesting period and a minimum age limit of 25 rather than 21. A more favourable arrangement in Article 4 of the directive is needed for the benefit of young workers. That is why I call on you to support Amendments 50 and 51, which we consider important.

 
  
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  Johannes Blokland (IND/DEM). – (NL) Madam President, I should like to congratulate Mrs Oomen-Ruijten on her report. The portability of supplementary pension rights is not a matter of course. If in the pensions debate the Netherlands – which is, after all, a pioneer – considers issuing a veto when fresh pensions legislation is proposed, then this is certainly food for thought.

It is of huge importance for new steps to be taken to guarantee better harmonisation of the different pension schemes. In addition to harmonisation, it is the financial viability of different schemes that is, above all, a cause for concern. Clearly, not everyone can endorse this report, because in respect of the Commission proposal, the rapporteur has suggested not to allow any more exceptions.

I am left with a question. When the exemption option is deleted from Article 9, paragraph 3, will Member States be encouraged to transfer to a capital-based pension scheme, for surely that should be done. In the European Union, where people have the freedom to work in different Member States, an appropriate social security system should be in place, and the transfer of pension rights that have been accrued individually should be a minimum entitlement.

 
  
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  Anja Weisgerber (PPE-DE).(DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, we all agree that workers’ mobility needs to be promoted. However, in many Member States, such as Luxembourg, Austria and Germany, this directive will have a huge impact on all occupational pension systems. Only 1.5% of workers move to an employer in another Member State, but the other 98.5% of workers who remain in their Member State will also be affected by the directive. I should like to say this to Mrs Jöns: it is these workers who we will be damaging if occupational pensions, which are of course voluntary, are no longer offered by companies because they are no longer affordable. Entire national systems could collapse.

Occupational pensions are of huge importance in the light of our ageing population. However, companies are under no obligation to offer occupational pensions. Applying the directive to defined-benefit pensions – as is currently envisaged – would penalise those companies that have given extensive pension guarantees in the past. We are running the risk here of companies withdrawing their voluntary occupational pensions.

In addition, according to the current proposal of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, people are to acquire pension rights immediately on reaching their 25th birthday, without there being any vesting period. This would mean an enormous increase in both bureaucracy and costs, making the whole scheme unaffordable. Adjusting the pension rights of inactive scheme members to the value of the rights of active workers – indexation – would increase costs by 30%. This was the main reason why the Dutch Minister for Social Affairs and Employment voted against the directive.

We need reliable, predictable and affordable rules. We are in favour of mobility, but on such conditions that the occupational pensions systems, which are so important for workers, are not put at risk.

Should the relevant amendments not be adopted, in the interests of workers I will be voting against the report.

 
  
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  Ieke van den Burg (PSE). – (NL) Madam President, I should like to make a few observations. First of all, with regard to the German Presidency’s analysis as to why it was so difficult to bring this issue to a successful conclusion. Something that was, as I see it, wrong right from the start is that exceptions were agreed on, not least by your own country, and that this set a process in motion, as a result of which other countries also started to insist on exceptions, which eventually resulted in a situation that nothing was left standing from the directive. I think this should be mentioned in the analysis.

Secondly, turning to the role of employers, social partners and pension funds themselves, I am a staunch advocate of them taking the necessary steps, but as Commissioner Špidla already said, they have missed their turn. I do think, though, that if we adopted this directive now without incorporating this element of value transfer, this would act as an incentive in that they would revisit this element of their own accord, and I should like to hammer this particular point home with the necessary emphasis. I was also opposed to Article 6, as formulated by the Commission, which would grant an individual right to value transfer, but as it should be regulated well, the necessary efforts do have to be made.

As for dormant rights, Mr Mann, it is definitely not the case that the Netherlands was opposed to this component for the reason that it would not be fundable. We have resolved this rather well in our own country in that dormant right holders also share in the profits which their premium contributions yield. Dutch people who have worked in Germany, for example, or other countries, and have been mobile have no access to the rights they accrued in those countries. This is unfair treatment. I think that this is why Article 5 about dormant rights is so important; I am therefore deeply disappointed that both the German Presidency and Mr Mann are now trying to get these rights to apply to future dormant rights only. The argument of retroactive applicability is real nonsense. Pension rights are determined every year, not least on behalf of the active participants. This can be done in exactly the same way for dormant participants. This is nothing to do with retroactive applicability; this is simply about adjusting regulations and this is a fair share which they need to have in it.

In short, the Oomen-Ruijten report receives our unqualified support, and as far as we are concerned, I hope that it does not remain stuck, like the Posting of Workers Directive, in the quagmire which Mr Cocilovo mentioned, but is now really being addressed by the Council.

 
  
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  Carlo Fatuzzo (PPE-DE). – (IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the money paid by workers for a supplementary pension is money belonging to workers. Money paid by employers, so that their employees can have a better life when they are retired, is also money belonging to workers. There should therefore be no problem in adopting a directive on the portability of rights which already belong to workers.

Mr Mann, you say that this directive, as courageously put forward by the Commission, involves considerable costs for insurance funds, and that it should therefore be rejected. I say, however, that the greater the costs for the pension funds, the greater the benefits for workers and the greater the number of workers that will sign up for voluntary pension funds.

To conclude, once again I can see, unfortunately, that the Council is acting as a brake within the European Union. Since the agreement of all 27 Member States of the European Union is required, within the Council one vote against a proposal is enough to block it. I wonder then why we continue to lament the fact that in France and the Netherlands there was a vote rejecting the Constitution. We would all like Europe to make progress, but when it comes to actually tackling the expectations that citizens have of us, we always adopt the position that is worst for citizens and workers. It is clear that we cannot make progress by acting in this way.

 
  
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  Proinsias De Rossa (PSE). – Madam President, I congratulate Mrs Oomen-Ruijten and all of those involved in finding a broad consensus on this extremely complex area. We need a strong vote today for the Oomen-Ruijten report and we need to ensure that the Thomas Mann amendments are defeated. I would appeal to my colleagues and, indeed, friends in the GUE/NGL Group to swallow hard and to give their support at the final vote today.

It is a great pity that after 20 years’ debate on portability and acquired rights we end up dealing with a directive that only really addresses the issue of acquired rights and not portability. Nevertheless, I support this particular approach at this point in time. I fully understand why we are in the position we are in, and we need an indication from the Member States that they are going to address seriously the obstacles that prevent full portability.

The veto in Council in this area of policy has to be dropped. I do not specifically mean, necessarily, on this particular directive – although I believe that should be so – but the general issue of the veto in the area of social policy needs to be dropped. I do hope that the upcoming IGC will address that issue in the next few months. More qualified majority voting will not steamroll anybody into any position, but it will oblige Member States and the Council to address the issues and to negotiate rather than to obstruct.

Following today’s vote, the Council, I believe, must get serious. They cannot expect trade unions to accept adaptability with regard to labour law reform if they are not prepared to address this key issue of worker security.

 
  
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  Gabriele Stauner (PPE-DE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, Mr President-in-Office, ladies and gentlemen, the proposed directive raises difficult problems, as is so often the case when people are directly affected. It is about nothing less than pension rights, that is one of the sources from which income is derived in old age. Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Luxembourg have very detailed occupational pension insurance systems, which are of high quality and have benefited both sides, both employers and employees.

The objective of a European directive has to be to strike a balance between the original motive of rewarding company loyalty and the requirement of workers’ mobility, which is of course being called for so vehemently by the business world and also by the European Commission. The method used to transfer state pension rights within the European Union – pro-rata calculation – should in my view also be used for occupational pension rights. If we want mobility we have to bear the consequences. I support my group’s amendments, but regardless of whether they are adopted or not I will be supporting the report as a whole, because it gives workers and employers security and predictability and means that they can plan ahead.

However, this proposal for a directive does highlight a fundamental problem for EU legislation in the field of social affairs: unanimity is required in the Council. This case illustrates perfectly that this is barely achievable in the Council, despite the best efforts of the current Council presidency, which we should acknowledge. The significance of our Parliament’s decision will therefore barely last the day, because any decision in the Council and the content of that decision are unknown. If we are to work successfully for the citizens, we in Parliament must therefore insist on majority decision-making in this area too.

 
  
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  Monica Maria Iacob-Ridzi (PPE-DE). – Îndeplinirea obiectivelor de la Lisabona constituie o prioritate pentru noi toţi. De aceea, orice iniţiativă care promovează creşterea mobilităţii forţei de muncă şi care poate contribui la creşterea economică şi la reducere şomajului este binevenită. Armonizarea legislativă în domeniul pensiilor suplimentare, care să promoveze mobilitatea europeană a muncii, nu poate fi realizată, însă, în mod abrupt. Unele state membre au sisteme mai dezvoltate, cu o îndelungată tradiţie în domeniu, iar altele sunt în stadiul incipient al introducerii pensiilor suplimentare. De aceea, vreau să felicit raportorul pentru reflectarea acestei diversităţi în toate amendamentele aduse directivei. Suntem în faţa unui raport echilibrat, care facilitează păstrarea sau rambursarea drepturilor de pensii suplimentare, dobândite de angajaţii care schimbă locul de muncă, fără a împovăra angajatorii, fondurile de pensii private sau ceilalţi contribuabili. Este un prim pas pe care toate statele membre îl pot accepta şi pe care se poate construi mai departe.

Transferul pensiilor de orice fel trebuie să fie posibil pentru cetăţenii europeni care lucrează într-un alt stat membru al Uniunii. Un avantaj în plus pentru angajat este transparenţa sporită a sistemului. Statele membre sunt obligate să ia măsurile necesare pentru ca angajaţii să fie informaţi despre drepturile băneşti ce li se cuvin, în cazul în care încetează să lucreze pentru o anumită companie. Pentru România , introducerea acestei directive în domeniul pensiilor suplimentare înseamnă un standard care ne permite să dezvoltăm acest sector economic, aflat în stadiu incipient în ţara noastră, fără a mai suporta costurile implicate de o reformă. Începând cu 2008, legislaţia românească prevede introducerea pensiilor suplimentare, ceea ce însemnă că aproape toţi cetăţenii români vor putea beneficia de drepturile conferite de această directivă. Cu toate acestea, este nevoie de timp pentru a implementa noile cerinţe. De aceea, sprijin ideea acordării unui termen suplimentar de şaizeci de luni pentru punerea în practică a măsurilor prevăzute în directivă.

 
  
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  Piia-Noora Kauppi (PPE-DE). – Madam President, I am happy to see this report reach this stage for a couple of reasons. The proposed changes go in a very sensible direction.

During the process, we were somewhat confused about the Commission proposals, for example on the retroactive implementation of the rules on vesting periods and about the difference between public, private and supplementary pensions. Thankfully, if we accept the proposed changes today, the outcome will be much better than the Commission’s original proposal.

We need to keep an eye on the bigger picture. If we make voluntary schemes too bureaucratic, and radically different from today’s alternatives, no one, especially not SMEs, will provide them. This will defeat the object of encouraging employers to expand the scope of voluntary schemes to more employees. It also means that the opportunity for companies to use voluntary schemes as attractive tools in recruiting employees and rewarding their loyalty will be lost. In addition, millions in investments will potentially be lost.

The objective is to encourage as many companies as possible to opt for the right kind of supplementary schemes and thus help alleviate, inter alia, the democratic time-bomb implications for publicly funded social security schemes. This can also be encouraged by leaving it up to Member States to decide when and how they will develop portability, so that companies located within them do not find themselves facing big surprises.

If we get this right, the EU can, without transgressing subsidiarity, make a genuine contribution to modernising social security in Europe and reaching its Lisbon goals.

 
  
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  Avril Doyle (PPE-DE). – Madam President, I fully support mobility of workers and greater portability of pensions, but it is important that this proposal on a very complex and specialist issue does not result in a reduction in the number of employers willing to offer voluntary pension schemes to employees. We need to allow employers who can afford to do so to offer generous pensions in order to attract and reward high-calibre personnel.

A recent Eurobarometer survey shows that 50% of younger employees and 30% of those in the 45-54 age group all expect to change jobs within the next five years, so making sure pensions savings follow employees throughout their career should be our goal. In this regard, I support our rapporteur Mrs Oomen-Ruijten’s efforts on the preservation of dormant rights.

As Member States’ statutory pension schemes face increased challenges on demographics and the dependency ratio, supplementary pension schemes are becoming more and more important. However, companies need to be able to offer pensions at an entry level that is viable for them. I can live with the compromise reached by the Council on this matter that, in cases where schemes stipulate a minimum age, this may not exceed 25 years. In Ireland, 54% of all employees are in occupational pension schemes, and the vesting period is two years. This works well for us, but I can accept a five-year vesting period to alleviate cost fears and to achieve a compromise to ensure the transfer of capital from the private sector pension schemes without undermining them.

I hope there is a resolution of difficulties sooner rather than later and that the Commission’s revised proposal charts a more acceptable path both for the Council and for Parliament. After all, our objective is, as the Commissioner said, not harmonisation, but minimum requirements, to ensure that it is not a case of ‘You move, you lose your deferred pension rights’.

 
  
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  Günter Gloser, President-in-Office of the Council. (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your contributions to the debate. I should like to comment on one further point that was also mentioned by several Members.

Obviously, many of you referred to the Lisbon Strategy, to the increasing need for workers’ mobility and to the action required as a result, for instance adopting appropriate rules precisely in respect of the portability of occupational pension rights.

Regardless of our assessment of the individual proposals that you have made or that appear in the report, unanimity is required in the Council and one Member State is saying clearly that it is bound by a parliamentary decision. Members of the national parliament have asked their government to respect that decision during the negotiations in the Council and to make certain proposals, which has meant that ultimately the unanimity that we need has not been achieved.

Mrs Schroedter, there is no need to enter the realms of fantasy and criticise Germany’s role here. Even under the Finnish Presidency it became clear which direction we could go in, where our positions converged and where they did not. That is why portability in the narrow sense of the word was removed from the proposal at that time. In all of the many discussions that we have had we have tried to reach an understanding, an agreement, but in the end we lacked the consent of one Member State. I have received positive signals from the Netherlands and Portugal – the incoming presidency – in one contribution. If then there is a desire to move closer together then hopefully an agreement will still be possible, at least in certain areas.

 
  
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  Vladimír Špidla, Member of the Commission. – (CS) Honourable Members, this debate can certainly be deemed a success, because, from many points of view, it has succeeded in clarifying the thrust of the approach taken by Mrs Oomen-Ruijten in her report.

It has clarified the idea of protecting and strengthening the rights of migrating workers, and, in turn, preserving and strengthening the long-term balance of these supplementary schemes, because the manifest unfairness of the current solution will inevitably lead to fewer people taking part in supplementary schemes. From a long-term perspective, this approach will naturally lead to strengthening.

I feel that, in a modern human society characterised by very little certainty, there are two very deeply embedded certainties. One of these is of course the certainty that death will come, and the second certainty of modern systems is that my pension rights will be fairly protected. I feel that this is such a certainty so fundamental that it is very good to strengthen it whenever we have the opportunity to do so.

Ladies and gentlemen, in a nutshell, the debate has shown that the report by Mrs Oomen-Ruijten follows a strong, fair-minded approach based on the economic and social development of the European Community, and improves the situation for mobile workers by protecting deferred rights and by guaranteeing the due acquisition of rights. The debate has clearly shown that this report is well balanced and neither affects nor hinders existing systems, even at a national level.

I should also like to mention some views that have emerged from the debate. One was that the report addressed the concept of making pension rights more dynamic. This idea was neither in the original proposal nor in Mrs Oomen-Ruijten’s report.

Honourable Members, it is right, in my view, to support the report before us in full. It creates a good basis for further development, which, as the debate has illustrated, is vital, and in my view it represents a major improvement on the existing state of affairs.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place later today.

Written statement (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Richard Seeber (PPE-DE), in writing. (DE) Workers’ mobility is a fundamental right in the European Union. This can only become a reality if the right conditions are created. This applies particularly to the area of social security. It is simply not enough for state pension rights to be transferable; the same also has to apply to occupational pension systems.

It is important that the rules remain practicable: we do not want well-intentioned procedures to cancel out their additional benefits because excessive red tape makes them unwieldy. Overall the approach proposed is a step in the right direction.

 
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