The idea is to make it easier for researchers to contribute to, and ultimately collect, a pension fund no matter what country they are or have previously worked in. Science Careers outlined these problems last year in "A Comfortable Retirement." That article summed up the issues nicely:
Although the European Union (E.U.) has made it possible for scientists to cross borders for work almost seamlessly, scientists can be penalized for that mobility when they retire. At fault is the lack of consistent laws regarding pensions across countries: Some don't allow people who take positions outside of their native countries to pay into the system during years spent abroad, and others even penalize them for leaving by cutting their pension payouts drastically. Even when scientists are allowed to pay into pension schemes in the countries in which they work, keeping track of all of them can be a bureaucratic nightmare. Communication among pension agencies is slow and sometimes nonexistent. A retired scientist might have to collect funds from several countries.
A May 2008 European Commission communication, "Better Careers and More Mobility: European Partnership for Researchers," outlined the potential benefits of a pan-European pension fund:
Pension providers should be encouraged to open up pan-EU pension schemes targeted to researchers and companies should be encouraged to use pension providers in other EU Member States. This would allow mobile researchers to contribute to the same supplementary pension fund while working in different EU countries and still comply with the different social, labour and pension legislation in the participating Member States. This will require the possibility of opting out where researchers are obliged to participate in a domestic pension fund by law.
According to Potočnik, the feasibility study will look at how to best meet the needs of researchers while complementing the established pension schemes in member countries. The original tender for the study listed it as an 11-month contract (which was awarded to Hewitt Associates), so, if the study stays on schedule, expect results next summer.
"For me, the link between the work in this area and securing the sustainability of our future research economy is clear," Potočnik writes. "A more mobile, more professionally secure and confident European research workforce is in everyone's interest. And this is especially important when research careers are more 'mobile' than most and are often based on short-term contracts. We owe it to researchers!"