Brussels, 2nd July 2024

NB: The following is an opinion piece by FAFCE President Vincenzo Bassi, originally published on the European Conservative.

The Hungarian Presidency: A Crucial Moment for Combating Europe’s Demographic Winter

As the Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union approaches, Europe must address the continent’s most pressing and existential crisis: the demographic winter. Recent data from Population Europe starkly reveal the alarming trend of plummeting birth rates across Europe. This is not just a statistical anomaly, but a clarion call for immediate and concerted action. The Hungarian presidency’s inclusion of demography in its priorities is commendable, yet the challenge must be addressed across all policy areas.

The latest figures paint a sobering picture. Every European member state is witnessing birthrates well below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman, with countries like Spain as low as 1.19. This demographic decline threatens the very fabric of European society, leading to ageing populations, shrinking workforces, and unsustainable social welfare systems. The evidence is irrefutable: without robust and effective policies to support families, Europe risks an irreversible slide into demographic oblivion.

European institutions must recognise that families are not a cost but a vital investment in the future. The family is the basic cell of society, providing intergenerational solidarity and nurturing the next generation in service of the common good. Policies that support families are investments in human capital, economic growth, and social cohesion. In this time where loneliness is the new pandemic, social cohesion and the question of demography cannot be separated; we must build a Europe that works for young people, disabled people, and often-ignored rural areas. This is why at FAFCE we would propose that the responsibilities for social cohesion and demography are managed under the same office at the Commission.

Indeed, one of the significant barriers to family formation is the current social and economic crisis, particularly the skyrocketing housing prices and the soaring cost of living. Young couples today face insurmountable obstacles in securing affordable housing, making it increasingly difficult to consider starting or expanding a family. From taxation to paltry parental leave, member states and institutions must take action to remove the obstacles in the way of families. The importance of addressing the demographic decline in Europe is key, not only in terms of economic policy and Europe’s resilience but also in order to create the conditions to promote families and work-life balance that ensure families can face the challenges of raising children.

Moreover, the role of families in providing intergenerational solidarity cannot be overstated. Families are the primary caregivers for both the young and the elderly, offering support systems that formal institutions often struggle to replicate. In times of crisis, such as during the COVID-19 lockdowns, families and their networks have proven to be the bedrock of resilience and the antidote to loneliness. All this is also in the context of destructive ills such as pornography, which lead to addiction and isolation, and do not encourage a respect for human dignity. Policies must, therefore, reinforce the family, recognising its indispensable role in child safety, social well-being, and population sustainability.

It is heartening to see that the Hungarian presidency has identified demography as a critical issue. Yet, addressing the demographic winter requires more than just isolated initiatives. It necessitates a holistic approach where every policy, from economic competition to social cohesion, from mental health to the digital transition, centers on the demographic realities and challenges we are facing. This existential crisis demands a coordinated and integrated response that transcends ideological posturing.

Make no mistake, the founding principle of subsidiarity remains, and national competences must be respected. Specific policies that work in Hungary may not necessarily work in Spain. Member states rightly have competence on family policies. However, this does not mean that Europe cannot encourage a seismic shift. For example, with regards to the stresses of balancing professional ambitions and family responsibilities, Europe can promote work-family balance by recognising the right to disconnect and Sunday as a common day of rest in Europe. This would allow for more opportunities for families to spend quality time with each other and the community around them.

Without families, there is no future. This statement is not hyperbole, but a fundamental reality. The survival and prosperity of Europe hinge on our propagation of the family. The upcoming Hungarian presidency offers a unique opportunity to place demography at the heart of European policy making. It is a chance to take bold, decisive action that will reverberate for generations.

In conclusion, the demographic winter is a challenge that we cannot afford to ignore. The Hungarian presidency’s focus on this issue is a positive step, but it is only the beginning. European institutions must act with urgency, treating the family as the invaluable asset it is. By doing so, we can ensure that Europe not only survives but thrives in the years to come. The future of our continent depends on the families we support today.