1. PENSION REGULATIONS
In order to structure our overview on pension regulations in Belgium, we make use of the ‘threepillars’ concept. This concept was developed in the early 1980s as a means of better understandingthe merging of private and public elements in social security (Gieselink, Peeters, Van Gestel,Berghman & Van Buggenhout, 2003).No consensus has so far emerged on a universal definition of the three pension pillars;different authors use distinct definitions (for example, Adema and Ladaique, 2005; Pedersen, 2004).In this text, the distinction between the different pillars is made on the basis of a double criterion.The organization responsible for the financial management distinguishes first-pillar pension fromsecond- and third-pillar pensions. While in the first pillar management is in the hands of publicinstitutions (central government, local governments or social security institutions; cf. OECD, 1999), inthe second and third pillars this is the responsibility of private institutions. The second criterionconcerns the labor market-related nature of pension build-up and thus distinguishes first- andsecond-pillar pensions from third-pillar pensions. In sharp contrast to the first two pillars, anyone cantake part in the third pillar, regardless of his or her specific employment situation. On occasion, azero pillar is also distinguished, which consists of social assistance benefits that ensure a minimumincome for the elderly. Entitlement to the latter benefits is independent of previous labor marketparticipation but is means-tested and therefore only granted if total income remains lower than thelegally defined threshold.
1.1. First pension pillar
Within the first pillar two
of pensions are distinguished: the retirement pension and thesurvivor’s pension; and three different pension
exist: the employee pension scheme (whichalso includes civil servants with a normal labor contract [contractuele ambtenaren]), the self-employed pension scheme, and the (statutory) civil servant pension scheme.
1.1.1. The retirement pension
A retirement pension is paid to elderly that have been formally employed. Currently, to be able tobenefit from a retirement pension, one has to be 65. However, an option exists for early retirementfrom the age of 60 and on. In order to be eligible for an early retirement pension, employees as wellas the self-employed have to have had a career of at least 35 years. Notably, for the self-employed(unlike for employees), early retirement leads to diminished pension rights. Early retirement as a civilservant is also possible, provided that one’s career as a civil servant has lasted at least five years.
The way in which pensions are calculated strongly differs according to the pension scheme.
For didactical purposes, certain complexities in pension legislation are not discussed. For a detailedexamination of existing legislation, see Stevens (2011a; 2011b) (for the first and second pension pillar foremployees and the self-employed), PDOS (2011a; 2011b) (for civil servants), Gieselink et al. (2003, pp. 48-54) orVan Eesbeeck & Vereycken, 2010, pp. 261-287) (for the third pension pillar) and Stevens (2011c) (for socialassistance benefits for the elderly).
The new coalition agreement (‘Ontwerpverklaring over het algemeen beleid’, 2011, pp. 102-103) changes theconditions for early retirement. As a general rule, in all pension schemes, early retirement is only possible fromthe age of 62 onwards and after having worked for 40 career years.