Policy brief

Better pensions for the European Union’s self-employed

What is the current state of pensions policy in Europe and how are independent workers treated compared with their traditionally employed counterparts

Publishing date
24 March 2022

Self-employed workers are taking on a larger role in the European economy, particularly workers who operate as independent contractors rather than as small-business owners with their own workforce. Becoming self-employed offers flexibility and entrepreneurial potential, but can limit access to state-sponsored pension schemes.

We assess the current state of pension policy across the European Union and take a more detailed look at five countries to see how independent workers are treated compared with their traditionally employed counterparts. We consider how policymakers might adjust or even overhaul their pension offerings to improve opportunities for the self-employed, while being mindful of the broader policy context in areas like innovation and overall tax burdens.

In assessing policy options, it is useful to determine whether government, companies or individuals will be primarily responsible for paying for better pensions, and we structure our suggestions accordingly. Governments can make programmes more widely available, more consistent for all types of work and easier to understand and take part in. Companies can be encouraged to make pension contributions for all their workers, not just those they hire full-time. Individuals can be encouraged to set aside more for retirement with tax incentives, benefits flexibility and other policy measures.

Access to pensions for low-income, more vulnerable self-employed workers should be considered separately from access for higher-paid workers. The current system does not facilitate this and indeed inhibits it in jurisdictions where a minimum income is required to join self-employment pension schemes.


Recommended citation

Christie, R., M. Grzegorczyk and D. Mulcahy (2022) ‘Better pensions for the European Union’s self-employed', Policy Contribution 05/2022, Bruegel

About the authors

  • Rebecca Christie

    Rebecca Christie is a Senior fellow at Bruegel and hosts Bruegel's podcast, The Sound of Economics. She is also the Brussels columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. She writes about the crossroads of markets, policy and politics, particularly where it comes to the European Union and how it interacts with the world. She was lead author on the European Stability Mechanism’s official history book, "Safeguarding the Euro in Times of Crisis: the Inside Story of the ESM".

    Over more than two decades in journalism, Rebecca has reported from Brussels, Washington and around the world for Bloomberg News, Dow Jones Newswires/The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. She joined Bruegel as a visiting fellow in 2019.

    She has also served as an expert adviser to a European Economic and Social Committee panel on taxation, is a regular conference speaker and moderator, and has provided editing and policy analysis to the European Commission, members of the European Parliament, and the African Development Bank. A US-Belgian dual citizen, she holds degrees from Duke University and from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

  • Monika De Ridder (Grzegorczyk)

    Monika worked at Bruegel as a Research Analyst until August 2022. Monika is completing her second master’s degree in Models and Methods of Quantitative Economics at Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne and UCLouvain. She holds a BSc in finance and a MA in Political Science. Her research interests include monetary policy, financial regulations, and structural reforms.

    Prior to Bruegel, Monika worked as a Junior Economist at OECD on the qualitative and quantitative assessment of the implementation of structural policies and recommended actions. She was able to apply new machine learning methods such as Natural Language Processing for textual analysis.

    Monika was a trainee at governmental bodies (the Polish Finance Ministry, Ministry of the Interior and Administration, and the Polish delegation to OECD) and worked for non-governmental organisation (Foundation Institute for Strategic Studies). She also gained her experience through research assistance at the Paris School of Economics on Macroeconomic imbalances procedure (published as European Parliament Study).

  • Diane Mulcahy

    Diane Mulcahy is a Visiting Fellow at Bruegel. She is an expert on the Gig Economy and contributes to Bruegel’s project on the Future of Work and Inclusive Growth. She is the author of The Gig Economy (Harper Collins, 2016), a best-selling book that has been translated into five languages, and an advisor Fortune 500 and startup companies about the future of work. Diane created the first MBA course in the U.S. on the Gig Economy.

    Diane is also a private equity and venture capital investor and contributes to Bruegel’s work on innovation and entrepreneurship. She was a VC investor in early-stage companies for nearly a decade, and currently manages the PE portfolio for a large foundation in the U.S. Diane’s work on the VC industry has been featured in The Economist, the Financial Times, Forbes, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, The New Yorker, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and is part of the curriculum of several MBA programs, including Case Western, Darden, INSEAD, Kellogg, and NYU, as well as Harvard Law School.

    Diane was previously a Visiting Fellow at Trinity College Dublin’s Policy Institute, where she wrote about the Irish government’s policies of financing the VC industry.

    Diane holds Master of Public Policy (M.P.P.) and A.B. degrees from Harvard University. She is a dual U.S. and EU (Irish) citizen.

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