Nations Make Europe, Families Make Nations, Children Make Families

Nations Make Europe, Families Make Nations, Children Make Families

2015. 11. 12.

from the Budapest Demographic Forum, November 5-7

“We Hungarians believe that children magnify the strength of their parents and the strength of the family,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, “and a generation of children magnify the strength of a nation, a whole country, and, finally, our entire civilisation.” The prime minister was addressing the Budapest Demographic Forum late last week, an event convening experts from across the continent to wrestle with one of the greatest challenges facing Europe today: the aging of its population.

As the prime minister pointed out, 13.4 percent of the world’s population was European in 1960, while today it is only 7.1 percent. Europe is getting older, weaker and is headed toward a demographic disaster.

What’s the solution then? A strong Europe that supports families. But that will never become a reality without strong families, and strong families can scarcely exist without the cooperation of men and women putting their trust in society. Looking at the best practices of EU Member States, the key to turning around the dismal demographic trends is strengthening family-supportive policies, accepting the vital role of families in society and putting the human dimension first.

There is only one way out of this crisis: increasing the birth rate while also recognizing and aiding families who are raising children. This is the only way we can preserve Europe’s role in the world.

Listening to the other speeches and messages delivered to the conference, this basic point comes through repeatedly. In his message to the forum, Pope Francis said that the family is the greatest resource and the center of human progress, yet it is on the decline in Europe —emphasizing that families should not be left alone. Others, like Polish President Andrzej Duda, vice president of the National Council of the Slovak Republic Jan Figel and minister of the British government Robert Halfon, all called for policies that support families with children.

It’s that simple. Or is it?

Not quite. Families and national identity are under fire from two trenches. First, some say that promoting families is somehow not politically correct and politicians who embrace the idea of strengthening traditional families often find themselves confronting negative press, labeled intolerant or not progressive enough. When a politician speaks up for the dignity of life, the result is often the same. We are all too familiar with the barrage of criticism that ensues because we saw the same sort of criticism of our new, Fundamental Law, which protects traditional marriage, families and human life from conception.

So what’s the solution to Europe’s aging problem? This is where we meet the other heavy fire because some say that the obvious solution calls for a greater openness to immigration. According to this theory, young migrants entering the EU would add to the labor market and the economic growth of the recipient country. Needless to say, none of this speaks to European culture and identity, and the European experience indicates that the integration of hundreds of thousands is, well, complicated.

“We want our politics built on families and not immigration,” Prime Minister Orbán said. “Make families again the core of European politics. Families and children are really a blessing – not just for the nation, but for the entire European community.” That kind of frank speech often provokes uproar from the other side. But I believe that the politicians, opinion leaders and other participants at the Budapest Demographic Forum, representing many European countries, did not find these words so outrageous. On the contrary, many share this dedication to a family-friendly Europe. We must carry this ideal into the future, so a Europe of empty cradles will not become reality.