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Thursday, 11 April 2002 - Strasbourg Final edition
National strategies for safe and sustainable pensions

European Parliament resolution on the Commission communication 'Supporting national strategies for safe and sustainable pensions through an integrated approach' (COM(2001) 362 – C5-0012/2002 – 2002/2017(COS))

The European Parliament ,

–  having regard to the Commission communication (COM(2001) 362 – C5-0012/2002),

–  having regard to the Economic Policy Committee report on the impact of ageing populations on public pension systems (12791/00), which the Ecofin Council meeting of 7 November 2000 noted,

–  having regard to the Commission communication 'The contribution of public finances to growth and employment: quality and sustainability' (COM(2000) 846),

–  having regard to the Commission communication "Towards a Europe for all ages – promoting prosperity and solidarity between generations' (COM(1999) 221),

–  having regard to the conclusions of the Stockholm European Council of 23-24 March 2001, in particular its conclusions 7 and 32,

–  having regard to its resolution of 17 May 2001(1) on the Commission communication 'The future evolution of social protection from a long-term point of view: safe and sustainable pensions' (COM(2000) 622 - C5-0011/2001 - 2001/2003(COS)),

–  having regard to the Göteborg European Council of 15-16 June 2001 which stressed that 'A comprehensive approach is needed to meet the challenges of an ageing society and endorsed the following three broad principles for securing the long-term sustainability of pension systems as identified by the Council: safeguarding the capacity of systems to meet their social objectives, maintaining their financial sustainability and meeting changing societal needs',

–  having regard to the conclusions of the Council of employment and social affairs ministers of 3 December 2001 and the Ecofin Council of 4 December 2001;

–  having regard to the conclusions of the Laeken European Council of 14 December 2001, in particular its conclusion 30,

–  having regard to the joint report of the Economic Policy Committee and the Committee on Social Protection to the Council, on objectives and working methods in the pensions field: the application of the open coordination process,

–  having regard to the Presidency Conclusions on the Barcelona European Council of 15 and 16 March 2002,

–  having regard to Rule 47(1) of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and the opinions of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Committee on Women's Rights and Equal Opportunities (A5-0071/2002),

A.  whereas the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union "recognises and respects the rights of the elderly to lead a life of dignity and independence and to participate in social and cultural life',

B.  whereas the growth in the number of pensioners, due to the rise in survival rates, may increase in the future pressure on the financing systems, unless effective policies are put in place to reverse the tendency of an increasing old-age dependency ratio; whereas such policies include measures to increase labour market participation, and policies to support an increase in the birth-rate as well as immigration,

C.  whereas forecasts for social development over a period of fifty years should be treated with caution and must under no circumstances be considered as "established findings',

D.  whereas demographic challenges throughout the EU call for renewed solidarity between the generations and an integrated approach to economic, social and employment policy,

E.  whereas one of the solutions to the pension funding problem in Europe is to implement innovative and generous family policies, such as those described in its resolution of 28 January 1999 on protection of the family and children(2) ,

F.  whereas the Lisbon strategy proposes tackling the demographic challenge by increasing the level of employment, particularly that of women and older workers,

G.  whereas solidarity between and within generations demands that account is taken of the contributions to society made by men and women of every generation by means of paid and unpaid work; whereas women are especially disadvantaged by the present pension systems and there is a need to attain gender equality in pension systems; whereas an integrated approach to the issues of ageing requires action to increase the employment of women and older workers, particularly through measures to encourage gradual retirement and oppose gender- or age-based discrimination at work,

H.  whereas the different levels of contributions, which are added to the cost of labour, must not distort competition in favour of socially less advanced economies,

I.  whereas it is important to make national budgets more transparent with regard to pension expenditure,

J.  whereas the payment of pensions should help to eliminate poverty and maintain standards of living in old age, and must enable the elderly to share the benefits of economic prosperity; whereas many of the elderly in the Member States and applicant countries suffer from poverty and social exclusion,

K.  whereas the reliable and timely payment of pensions should help maintain suitable and fair standards of living in old age, prevent situations of poverty and improve the standards of living of the most disadvantaged elderly people,

L.  whereas there are considerable differences between pension systems in the various Member States, so the responsibility for regulating the organising and funding of pension systems remains exclusively a matter for the Member States, but whereas the scale of the problem will affect the European Union's social, economic and monetary stability and its social system, and the European Union could help to promote safe and financially sustainable pensions via the open coordination process,

M.  whereas the Stockholm European Council noted that 'The coming decade offers an opportunity to address the demographic challenge by raising employment rates, reducing public debt and adapting social protection systems, including pension systems'; whereas it also stated that: 'where appropriate, the potential of the open method of coordination should be used to the full, particularly in the field of pensions',

N.  whereas the Göteborg European Council of June 2001 decided to address the common problem of maintaining safe pensions using the open method of coordination, and adopted three broad principles for securing the long-term viability of pension systems: safeguarding the capacity of systems to meet their social objectives, maintaining their financial sustainability and meeting society's changing needs,

O.  whereas the European Councils of Stockholm, Göteborg and Laeken made progress in applying a specific open coordination process, drew attention to a working method (one which does not involve Parliament), the agenda and the commitments, and adopted the joint report of the Social Protection Committee and the Economic Policy Committee,

P.  whereas it is vital to reach agreement on a definition of "indicators' of the levels reached in satisfying citizens' pension expectations, and such indicators cannot be confined to defining a given standard of living in quantitative terms, but must also take account of the quality of living proposed for retired people, such as combating loneliness, illiteracy and other forms of social exclusion,

Q.  whereas Parliament should be consulted on this matter and must be entitled to participate in the open coordination process in an appropriate way,

R.  whereas the candidate countries cannot be excluded from this initiative, which concerns the workers and pensioners of all the current Member States and candidate countries of the Union,

S.  whereas it is all-important to ensure that the social partners are also actively included in this process and that social forces, associations and NGOs representing workers and pensioners are consulted,

T.  whereas the lack of coordination between pension systems, as well as the tax treatment of contributions, fund revenues and pension benefits, in different Member States of the EU are major barriers to greater labour mobility within the EU,

U.  whereas the mobility and prudential safeguarding rules for pension fund capital in the financial markets, under discussion in relation to a draft directive on the activities and prudential supervision of institutions for occupational retirement provision, is a complementary subject closely linked to the quality and sustainability of pensions,

1.  Considers that the Member States must, with the support of the European Union and with due regard for subsidiarity, shoulder their responsibility to guarantee pensions which will enable every pensioner to lead a dignified and independent life and to participate in social and cultural activities; considers that the debate on pensions is essentially a social challenge with financial aspects, and that this debate therefore needs to be conducted with a view to protecting these rights and must not be restricted to the problem of funding; applauds the Commission's initiative on guaranteeing safe and sustainable pensions;

2.  Endorses the 10 objectives in the Joint Report in principle and the three guiding principles of adequacy of pensions, the financial viability of systems and the modernisation of pension systems to respond to change and the needs of the economy, society and individuals; asks that these principles are examined also in the framework of the employment guidelines and the national action plans on social inclusion; calls in particular on the Member States to maintain a well-functioning compulsory pensions system;

3.  Welcomes the launching of the open coordination method on pensions on the basis of Community objectives and working methods; calls for this method to be extended and deepened by establishing a Community list of indicators, drawing up national strategic reports and the identifying of best practice; calls on the next European Council to confirm these objectives and working methods and to take concrete decisions on the substance of and timetable for the open coordination method;

4.  Notes that the Barcelona European Council, in Point 32 of the Presidency conclusions, states that 'a progressive increase of about 5 years in the effective average age at which people stop working in the European Union should be sought by 2010'; considers it essential that this and other substantive changes to the strategies for securing safe pensions should be agreed with Parliament;

5.  Calls on the Member States to submit by September 2002 their national strategies for tackling the overall aims of European strategy, through a process in which they consult all those involved and on the basis of an accurate assessment of the economic and social challenges they will have to face; also to devise effective indicators and follow-up mechanisms to evaluate the reforms and modernisation of all aspects of their pension systems; calls for the candidate countries to be involved in the process of coordination and comparison aimed at guaranteeing safe pensions;

6.  Calls on the Commission and Council to treat the three fundamental objectives of pension policy coordination as three objectives of equal value which are closely interlinked and interdependent; calls on the Commission to take account of this in drawing up the relevant reports, particularly the Economic Guidelines and the Employment Guidelines, the recommendations on this topic to the Member States, and the annual summary report for the European Spring Summit to ensure that all the processes are consistent with and complementary to the sustainability and modernisation of the European social model;

7.  Looks, therefore, to the Employment and Social Affairs Council and the Committee on Social Protection to be fully involved in the drafting of the Economic Guidelines;

8.  Calls on the Commission and Council to ensure that the open coordination process incorporates democratic elements, so that the assessment and solutions are not confined to the thinking of technical experts working behind closed doors; points out that to solve these problems and respect European integration will mean involving Parliament and public opinion in such processes;

9.  Considers it essential for Parliament to be fully involved in the procedures for achieving an integrated approach to promoting safe and sustainable pensions; calls, therefore, to be consulted on the national strategic reports, the Joint report as well as on the choice of indicators defined by common accord of the Member states;

10.  Notes that the joint report by the Social Protection Committee and the Economic Policy Committee of 25 October 2001 on 'objectives and working methods in the area of pensions: applying the open method of coordination' actually represents a step backwards in relation to the Commission communication as regards Parliament's involvement in the process, in so far as it simply states that Parliament should be kept 'informed'; regards this as unacceptable;

11.  Notes that the exchange of views between Parliament and the policy committees supposedly being conducted by Parliament - according to the communication - has not to date taken place; stresses, however, that it would welcome such an exchange of views;

12.  Calls for an interinstitutional agreement to be concluded without delay laying down rules governing the participation of Community institutions in all stages of the open method of coordination (setting of objectives, establishment of indicators, discussion of joint report, etc), including rules on access to documents, participation in meetings and the procedure for moving from the open method of coordination to the Community approach;

13.  Hopes that the European social partners will be fully involved in all the stages, at national and European level, of the open coordination process relating to safe and sustainable pensions; calls also for the involvement of representatives of pensioners, social NGOs and women's organisations;

14.  Stresses that in order to secure pensions in the long term, it is essential that comprehensive reform strategies are drawn up before acute financing problems arise. The aim of this reform process should also be to expand the basis of contributors and to explore alternative forms of financing statutory pension systems;

15.  Hopes that the current level of European pension provision will be maintained, reformed and increased;

16.  Points out that the maintenance of pensions in keeping with the standard of living can also be seen as a problem of distribution: the key question is whether the macroeconomic increases in productivity will be high enough in the decades ahead to secure rising added value even against a backcloth of falling employment figures, so as to finance a higher proportion of "collective consumption' for pensioners, and whether the political will exists to redistribute wealth in order to secure pensions in the long term;

17.  Calls on the Commission to clearly distinguish solidarity-based collective systems of funded pensions from purely individual financial pension or savings arrangements, and to strongly promote the former in the different fields of EU policy;

18.  Calls on the Commission to carry out a comparison between the current pension systems in the European Union and to provide for studies on the operation and impact, in terms of sustainability and security, of funded pension systems, pay-as-you-go pension systems and combined systems; recalls in this respect the recommendation of the high-level group on social protection to examine occupational and fully funded pension schemes in the light of the criteria of a fair balance of risk, equality for women, solidarity and equal distribution of incomes, and in addition analyse the effects of the volatility of financial markets on these systems;

19.  Draws attention to the need to avoid the risk of making workers and pensioners responsible for any imbalances in pension systems, as they contribute to financing a significant proportion of pension schemes and therefore have a right to a proper pension with welfare guarantees;

20.  Calls on the Commission to propose that the Member States make their budgets more transparent with regard to pensions-related items;

21.  Asks the Commission also to give preference, during the open coordination process, to research into, and good management practices for, reducing waste, inefficiency, social injustice and unjustified unequal treatment with regard to pensions, and into effecting the prompt payment of pensions;

22.  Favours the creation and expansion of suitable reserve pension funds, modelled on the laudable action already taken by some Member States;

23.  Calls on the Commission to organise and support, in collaboration with the Member States, information and educational campaigns with the participation of civil society and the social partners concerning the progress of the reform of pension schemes;

24.  Calls on the Commission to promote research on poverty and social exclusion, as being topics which directly concern elderly people, and on the many links between gender and demographic ageing, so that the indicators can be developed for adequate pension benefits and gender equality in pension systems;

25.  Considers, in the context of achieving Europe-wide coordination of pensions policy, that studies should be carried out on the initiatives which might be taken to apply the 1992 recommendation on the minimum income to be guaranteed by social protection systems;

26.  Welcomes the Laeken European Council's decision to invite the Council to take an approach for health care and care of the elderly similar to the approach on pensions; calls for reforms to strengthen the preventive approach in health care and reinforce solidaristic and redistributive mechanisms in statutory health insurance to provide high-quality health care for all;

27.  Considers the issue of the tax treatment of pensions, which was the subject of a Commission Communication issued in April 2001, to be closely linked to the subject of coordination on the sustainability, social quality and modernisation of pensions in Europe, agreed at Laeken;

28.  Stresses the need for Member States to come to an agreement on a uniform fiscal treatment of both the mobile pensioner and the mobile worker as part of the national strategies for safe and sustainable pensions through an integrated approach;

29.  Strongly regrets the completely inadequate progress made in connection with legislative and other initiatives at European level, and in particular the directive on the activities and prudential supervision of institutions for occupational retirement provision, which represent concrete steps towards safeguarding the future of pension systems; has the impression that Member States are becoming more reluctant to take decisions;

30.  Calls on the Member States to actively implement the Lisbon strategy, in particular by means of:

   - action to promote a gradual approach to pensions, giving individuals the choice whether to retire or to work full or part time up until or after their pensionable age, and providing incentives to taking retirement at a later age;
   - an active policy to promote employment and combat unemployment;
   - stronger measures to combat aged-based discrimination, gender inequality and other discrimination on the labour market;

31.  Calls on the Commission to ensure that each of the Member States gives details of the commitment to achieve full employment by 2010 and of the general employment objectives for that date, as also for the categories of women and adult workers, with a specific timeframe consistent with the common objectives and working method for the reform and modernisation of pensions;

32.  Calls on the Commission to include, in its objective to increase the employment rate of older workers, a recommendation to adapt health and safety requirements and the whole working environment to the special needs of older workers;

33.  Calls on the Member States to give priority to gender equality in their pension systems. Measures seeking to guarantee gender equality should include:

- the individualisation of pension, social security and taxation systems, while ensuring that existing pension and derived rights under the current systems are not lost or devalued;

   - an adjustment of pension systems - seeking to respond to social needs for childcare and care for the elderly and other dependants, - whereby pension contributions are accumulated by people who are temporarily providing care in the family;

34.  Calls on the Commission to reformulate the third of its proposed broad principles: "to enhance the ability of pension systems to respond to the changing needs of society and individuals, thereby contributing to full employment and social cohesion, equal opportunities for men and women with regard to employment and social protection and a better adaptation of pension systems to individual needs';

35.  Calls on the Commission to take appropriate initiatives to make progress with European legislation that effectively safeguards in pension systems the principle of no direct or indirect discrimination between men and women, and the social rights of workers in the cases of atypical work and business crises;

36.  Considers that pension cover must be given as a matter of urgency to women who work part-time or who have no income from employment and are not entitled – or are only partly entitled - under existing pension schemes to a supplementary pension;

37.  Takes the view that the rules governing the right to parental leave for male and female workers and leave to take care of sick or invalid family members must give access to full pension rights;

38.  Invites the Commission and the Member States to agree on and collect gender-specific data and indicators within the open method of co-ordination in order to determine and rule out gender-based discrimination in pension systems;

39.  Calls on the Commission to take initiatives to ensure that European public opinion is aware of the future challenges facing the European social model and the importance of responsible attitudes based on solidarity to promote the solutions required;

40.  Supports the Commission's expressed intention of providing citizens with reliable and easily understandable information on the long-term prospects of pension systems and encouraging the funding of plans to fulfil this objective;

41.  Calls for the next European Council to consider the proposals in this report and give further impetus to the national strategies for safe and sustainable pensions that are sufficient to ensure that workers' standards of living are maintained after retirement;

42.  Regrets, however, that it was not given the opportunity to express its own opinion on this Commission communication in time for it to be considered at the Barcelona Council;

43.  Calls on the Convention for the European Constitution referred to in Item 3 of the Laeken Declaration to take account in its deliberations of the rights of elderly citizens to a safe and sustainable pension;

44.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the parliaments of the Member States and the candidate countries.

(1) OJ C 34 E, 7.2.2002, p. 362.
(2) OJ C 128, 7.5.1999, p. 79.

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