Two influential recent approaches to social policy in Europe imply (for different reasons) that the reforms currently on the agenda, which typically involve cost-containment, are peculiarly difficult to achieve. Esping-Andersen sees much of Europe as set in a “frozen welfare landscape”, due to the power of the interests advantaged by the status quo. Pierson sees retrenchment as a peculiarly difficult problem for all governments, regardless of their political ideology. This paper reviews recent pension policy in France, Germany, Italy and the UK. It argues that developments in Germany indicate that it is possible to achieve appropriate policy change in the country which is often used as the paradigm of entrenched interests without major restructuring of the system. Conversely, recent reforms in the UK (seen by Pierson as the country which has achieved the most rapid changes) appear disproportionate to the scale of the problems faced and may have damaged pensioners' interests. This indicates that the capacity to achieve substantial reform is not necessarily in itself a virtue. The real issue is the quality of reform achieved.