148 Choice and Solidarity: Comparative Perspectives On Pension Reform in Europe

Wednesday, June 26, 2013: 2:00 PM-3:45 PM
C1.23 (Oudemanhuispoort)
The current economic crisis has placed considerable strain on European pension systems. While the 2008 financial crisis has negatively affected the investment returns of many pension funds, the European debt crisis has restricted state-funded statutory pensions. It is therefore not surprising that governments around Europe have initiated far-reaching reforms of first- and second-pillar pension systems in recent years. These reforms have ranged from various adjustments to the legal retirement age (e.g. Germany), increased financial regulation of pension investment vehicles (e.g. Switzerland) and changes to the governance structure of pension funds (e.g. the Netherlands). An overarching trend that can be witnessed across these various reforms is the introduction of more freedom of choice for pension plan participants. Whereas many European pension systems legally mandate plan participation to guarantee collective solidarity, citizens in a number of countries now have more say over various dimensions of their pensions, such as age of retirement, benefit levels and types of investments. The introduction of freedom of choice is both a response to popular demands for more control over pensions in the face of disappointing performance by pension funds, as well as a conscious attempt by governments to transfer public responsibility for retirement provision to the private sector.

This panel will review reforms to introduce more individual choice over pensions in a selection of European countries. Anderson investigates the role of policy legacies in reform processes in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, while De Deken analyses the implementation of choice options in Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and the USA. Van der Zwan, meanwhile, interrogates the expansion of voice options in pension fund governance in the Netherlands. Each of these papers interrogates to what extent the current economic crisis has created a window of opportunity for pension reform. In addition, the papers evaluate to what extent there is a trade-off between collective solidarity and individual choice in the pension system. Taken together, finally, the papers assess whether the introduction of freedom of choice in various pension systems is part of a European (and perhaps global)  trend or if these reforms have retained a decidedly national character. By raising these questions, the panel draws on recent scholarly work on European occupational pension systems (cf. Immergut, Anderson and Schulze 2007; Ebbinghaus 2011) as well as research on the 21st century welfare state (cf. Bonoli and Natali 2012; Morgan and Campbell 2011, Palier 2010). This panel will bring together scholars from different disciplines, nationalities and career stages.

Natascha Van der Zwan
Deborah Mabbett
The Politics of Choice in Occupational Pensions
Karen Anderson, Radboud University Nijmegen
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