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The New Pension Mix in Europe

Recent Reforms, Their Distributional Effects and Political Dynamics


Edited By David Natali

This book – based on a research project carried out by the Observatoire Social Européen asbl, with the financial support of the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) – looks at the most recent developments in pension policy and politics in Europe and advances our understanding of the field in three respects: firstly, it contributes to improve our knowledge of the most recent reform wave passed in the wake of the recent economic and financial crisis; secondly, it assesses the long-term financial and social sustainability of pensions; thirdly, it analyses the politics of pensions and the way policymakers and stakeholders interact in order to address the major challenges to pensions.

The evidence proposed by six country chapters (about Italy, France, Finland, Poland, the Netherlands and UK) and three more transversal chapters (about the role of the EU, that of trade unions in pension reforms, and the main challenges to pension systems in Europe) proves that pension systems have been altered in the wake of the recent crisis. The more evident changes have consisted of: the halt – at least in some countries – of the spread of private pension funds; the improvement in the financial viability of the systems paralleled by more evident risks for the future adequacy of pension benefits; and the alteration of pension politics with the risk of the progressive marginalisation of the trade union movement. In many countries, reforms have been passed without any major social concertation, while the European Union (EU) has had a more evident influence, especially in the countries hit most by the crisis. As a consequence of these trends, we see the emergence of a "new" pension mix in Europe, with new institutional settings, and new challenges.

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The Role of Trade Unions in Pension Policymaking and Private Pension Governance in Europe (Bernhard Ebbinghaus)


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The Role of Trade Unions in Pension Policymaking and Private Pension Governance in Europe



Trade unions have been important collective actors, advancing the economic and social rights of employees vis-à-vis employers and the government over more than a century. Unions had fought for the extension of social rights via both public policymaking and collective bargaining. Whether obtained via state or private provision, old-age pensions are seen by unions as “earned” deferred wages (Myles, 1989), and pension contributions should therefore be shared by employers, employees and the state. In return, for contributing, and in order to represent the interests of the beneficiaries, employee representatives have been involved in social insurance administration or negotiated occupational schemes. Thus, in modern welfare states, trade unions have been key societal actors in both pension policymaking and, often, in its implementation, particularly where there is a tradition of “sharing public space” (Crouch, 1986). Employers have often taken a more reluctant position, supporting social policy only as a second-best option behind voluntary social benefits, and in recent years they have become worried about high social contributions and long-term financial sustainability. The role of trade unions as defenders of employees’ social rights has been challenged in current pension reforms and other welfare retrenchment efforts in a myriad ways.

Given long-term socio-economic and political changes, trade unions have seen their membership base erode, their strength in the bargaining realm has been challenged by...

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