A family-friendly policy is like investing in the future

2017. 09. 08.

Investing in family-friendly initiatives and policies means investing in the future. This demographic challenge has to be faced and solved based on our own resources and by the mobilization of our own reserves – stated Kinga Gál MEP, vice-president of the European People’s Party, in the House of Representatives of the Hungarian Parliament. Kinga Gál’s speech – given below – was held on the opening event of the conference on Demographic Change and Revival of our Societies organized by EPP Committee of Regions.

“Dear ladies and gentlemen! Thank you for your invitation and I am delighted to have chosen Budapest as the venue for your outbound meeting so that I can speak to you in the building of the Hungarian Parliament. Talking between these walls is always uplifting and challenging. These patinous walls give discipline and responsibility to the speaker. I feel even more right now when we talk about important topics, looking for the way forward, such as demography and family policy. I would like to congratulate the EPP Committee of the Regions for putting an actual and perhaps more important issue on its agenda. We face many challenges in Europe – migration crises, security policy issues, environmental issues, human rights issues, minority issues, etc. – the corridors are loud in the community institutions of these ones. At the same time – perhaps the most pressing issue – the demographic crisis does not get as much attention as it deserves.

In preparation for my speech today, the first thing that came into my mind was the picture of a demographic winter. Europe is aging. Europe’s population is running out. Europe weakens. It is therefore more important to talk about demographic challenges and the transformation of our societies. The numbers show that Europe is losing in the population race. From fewer marriages fewer children are born in most of the Member States. The decreasing birth rates have a negative impact on the Member States’ labor market, health care and pension systems, as well as on many other aspects of everyday life. In our ever-aging and transforming societies, new challenges will emerge in the near future. One of the possible reasons for the alarming demographic forecasts is the dramatic transformation of family models and the crisis of families, as many demographers also emphasize. That is why I would focus on this as well. The aging society, the low birth rate, has been well known daily problems all over Europe that we have to face. The situation is only undermined by the general crisis of values in which our European societies have been for a long time. Such trustworthy and unquestionable values as family, faith, helping each other, responsibility for each other, or respect for each other have become relative. I believe that the decision-makers and politicians in the family of the European People’s Party have greater responsibility than ever to direct the focus on these values again, thus making sure that the future is firmly grounded. Holy Pope John Paul II., in his encyclical on families, thus called attention to this: “The public authority should be convinced that the family is an indispensable treasure of the civic public good, and therefore, as far as possible, give families the economic, social, educational, political and cultural assistance which it needs to be able to fulfill all its tasks.”

The most basic living cell of society is the family, and in this case, I mean the family in the broad sense of the word, as a nurturing and educated community. A strong society can only be built of strong, stable families, aware of their vocation and their historical mission. In the present historical situation in which the family lives today, both light and darkness are present. Holy Pope John Paul II. said, “The family is connected to society with living and arranged fibers, and also constitutes the foundation of it by the service of life. The members of society are born in the family and receive the first school of social virtues in the family. These virtues are the soul of life and of the development of society.” The family is a cohesive force, a community, and an emotion of belonging to one another. That is why I believe that protecting families is an indispensable and essential tool for solving and tackling demographic problems. Without this, individual thinking comes in focus that does not serve to strengthen our societies and our communities. Investing in family-friendly initiatives and policies is like investing in the future. This demographic challenge has to be solved based on our own resources, mobilizing our reserves. All measures need to be promoted that increase childbearing willingness, improve well-being of children, ensure their education and development. This is true at local, regional and also at national and EU level. The reversal of negative demographic trends can only be achieved if we make it attractive or rewarding in both the concrete and the transposed sense of childbearing throughout Europe.

I believe that it is not enough just for the government to take steps to make the change, but this support for the appreciation of the family must pervade the whole society. Thus, beside the government role, two other sectors, the private sector and the non-governmental (civil) sector have to move towards the common goal. Of course, governments can do much to encourage these two levels. If the three actors, on three levels, move together to achieve the common goal, then the country can be successful in the future. (Hungarian example: The Three Prince – Three Princess Movement founded the Family Friendly Company Award which is now very cool in Hungary). To do this, concrete steps can be taken, which in many cases can be initiated at the regional level or even at the local government level, such as free hot meals for children in need once a day, on vacations, or free social camps for children in the summer or free school books. Support for families with children to continue working, family allowances for students, family tax reducing and continuous increase of it, extension of child birth support and the prolongation of the period covered by this support, home-based allowances for mortgages and student loan repayment by the government – depending on the number of children, additional leave for fathers can be concrete steps towards the European demographic spring.

The above examples are now good practices in Hungary. The Hungarian government intends to base the future of the nation on the strengthening of families, and the hoped-for support of childbearing. If the Hungarian demographic model is successful, it can be a good and attractive example for a shrinking and aging Europe, and in this way, sooner or later it will become more favorable and friendly the dominant wind direction. Money spent on child protection is not a cost or expense, but it is an investment that will come back in the future. The European People’s Party, in line with these principles, adopted its family policy strategy in January. The document entitled “Prospering Families for a prospering Europe, or What is good for the families is also good for Europe” spells out the current challenges that families have to face with and set concrete directions for action. It states that every level needs to be reviewed and that the existing policy needs to be re-thought. It also emphasizes that a well-functioning family is the key of survival and stability of society: it protects the individual and strengthens society as a whole. The family has a vital role to play in ensuring the future of Europe, so maintaining the integrity of the family and ensuring its capability to bring up the future generations is paramount.

The same principles were confirmed by the Congressional Document adopted in Malta in March this year, according to which a strong family friendly policy is a basic condition for positive demographic change. Creative and coordinated action is needed by the EU and its Member States to develop a comprehensive European strategy for a family and child friendly environment. This strategy should include economic, social and scientific challenges. Child and family protection therefore offers a chance: a chance for a prosperous future for our young people, a chance for a quiet future for older generations. These policies are the only way to turn the current demographic era into a new blooming spring. We need regeneration, resurgence and reconstruction. Let me conclude my speech with a quotation from Csaba Böjte, a Franciscan monk, who runs 82 child care centers in Transylvania, where there live several thousand children in need of care and education: “Let’s pray that more and more families need a new baby carriage. I think that from the downturn of the economic crisis the baby carrier should pull us out as soon as possible, which would boost other industries too. Because if demand for baby carriages increases, then I guess that will bring the market for huge rollers, roller skates, bikes, and big family cars too. But if the baby carriage business does not start, then our paths will be eradicated and only lonely people will wander unwantedly on the deserted roads.” I therefore wish baby carriage factories to be built in our settlements, regions, and countries.   Thank you for listening!