EUROPE - The debate on the leading location to domicile pan-European pensions has been reignited following the release of a prospectus by the Belgian government promoting the country.
In the brochure, Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt said Belgium's situation in the heart of Europe further strengthened its position in the pension fund market. He said: "Belgium is positioning itself as a prime centre of shared services for international businesses."
However, experts disagreed Belgium's offering was better than those of other countries offering cross-border pension plans, such as Ireland and the Netherlands.
Pat Wall, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dublin and chairperson of the Irish government's pan-European pensions task force, said he felt the playing field between the countries was level.
"The countries have been benchmarking against each other. I don't think we can offer anything that Belgium can't offer and vice versa," he said.
Prof. Guus Boender, chairman and non-executive director of Ortec in the Netherlands, praised the Belgian implementation of Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision (IORPS), adding it was in a country's national interest to establish a pan-European pensions industry.
But he added he didn't think there would be a situation where one particular country would emerge as the pre-eminent destination for cross-border pensions. "I don't think it's a winner takes all situation," he said.
Ivan Eulaers, a senior manager in the insurance and employee benefits division of Deloitte, based in Belgium, told Global Pensions: "By introducing the IORPS directive, Belgium hoped to attract pan-European pension schemes to the country. It copied all of the elements of legislation straight from the directive, so it is basically a 'copy and paste' of IORPS.
"The main focus of the Irish system is on pension pooling vehicles, where all the assets are pooled in the country, but under the Belgian and Dutch systems, assets and liabilities are pooled in each country. They act more like a service centre," he added.
Despite the debate, uptake of cross-border pensions has been limited.
Wall commented: "My own view is that we need a fresh approach, addressing issues such as is a DC arrangement better? Would that be easier to provide across borders?
"No doubt in the fullness of time, occupational schemes set up under an IORPS umbrella will get some sort of traction in Europe, but we're quite a way from that."
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