The European pensions regulator has launched a study to assess the potential impact on the industry of changes to European legislation.
Nine European countries where defined benefit pensions are most prevalent, including the UK, will be involved in the quantitative impact study (QIS) being run by the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority. This will feed into the European Commission's review of the rules governing workplace pensions in Europe, the Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision Directive.
In particular, the study will consider the financial impact of different sets of options for valuing a scheme's holistic balance sheet. This aims to take into account all aspects of its financial situation, including assets, liabilities and the employer's ability to support the scheme.
The study will also examine how schemes might carry out a risk-based calculation of the capital they require to remain solvent. These requirements have proved controversial with pension funds, which have suggested it will involve the inappropriate transposition to the industry of the capital requirements being introduced for insurers under Solvency II.
Gabriel Bernardino, chair of EIOPA, said: 'I am pleased that we have been able to take this important step in the development of a new European framework for occupational pension funds.
'In our advice to the European Commission we proposed the holistic balance sheet concept as a means to capture the wide diversity of retirement systems in a single prudential regime. This QIS will allow us to investigate the feasibility of implementing the HBS in practice.'
The technical specifications for carrying out the quantitative impact study were consulted on by EIOPA earlier this year, before being submitted to the European Commission at the start of this month. Those being used to undertake the actual QIS are largely the same as the specifications recommended by EIOPA.
Darren Philp, policy director for the National Association of Pension Funds, said: 'These proposals pose a major risk for UK pensions and we welcome the opportunity to test out how they would work in practice.
'Imposing extra costs on pension schemes would force more of them to close, and could undermine jobs and investment at a time when the economy is struggling. Pensions are already well protected in the UK and we see no need for an extra layer of regulation.'
National regulators will oversee the process of carrying out the impact study in each of the nine countries, with the actual exercise being carried out either by the regulators themselves, selected pension schemes, actuaries working on behalf of the regulators or a combination of these.
The impact study exercise will run until December 17, with EIOPA making its preliminary results available to the commission in January and the final results of the study two months later. These will then feed into the impact assessment report that will accompany the commission's final proposals for the revised IORP directive next summer.