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May 26, 2017 - Zoltán Kovács

PM Orbán reveals three key conditions to reverse Europe’s demographic decline

Reversing Europe’s demographic decline, said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán addressing the 11th World Congress of Families in Budapest on Thursday, is like “turning around a large ocean liner. We vainly turn the wheel, but the body will not follow the new direction in the next second, only slowly.”

“The time for straight talk has come,” the prime minister said. “Our homeland — our common homeland — Europe is losing the demographic competition of the great civilizations. Less and less children born in fewer marriages, so the population is getting old and shrinking,” he said, adding that while some think migration is the answer to this demographic problem, it is instead a question of responsible family policy.

“It is important to make the statement that restoring natural reproduction is a national issue, not one of the many, but the national issue. It is also a European issue, not one of the many, but the European issue,” he added, emphasizing that the magnitude of the challenge should not scare responsible governments. 

Once we come to terms with this reality, there are three key things that an accountable, family policy must do to ensure that the ocean liner indeed changes course.

The first condition is that the “steering wheel is well set and fixed” and headed in the right direction so that the policy will remain through multiple government cycles. Hungary’s goal is to increase the birth rate to 2.1 percent from the existing 1.5 percent by 2030.

The second requirement is a “good engine”—a stable and competitive economy. If this is not a given, citizens will lack confidence and the government will struggle to meet social policy goals. In Hungary, GDP growth lies between 3 and 5 percent. The “national debt is decreasing and unemployment is slowly dissolving.” That makes it easier to focus policy on how to increase the number of childbirths.

The third must-have, according to the prime minister, is a sturdy ship hull. “If family, as a form of community is not in the heart of the youth in the first place, we don’t get anywhere, regardless of economic power and exceptional national economy statistics.” In this part of the world, Orbán said, “we still may consider ourselves lucky. For the majority of central European youth, marriage and starting a family are still the most important things in their lives.”

Hungary is already spending 4.6 percent of its GDP on families and this is only going to increase. Next year, which the government has declared the “year of families,” is introducing further allowances. Among other measures, student loan discounts for young women are more accessible (50 percent after 2 children and 100 percent after 3 or more). In addition, families may deduct 1 million HUF from their mortgages per child after two children. Thirdly, maternity support will be extended to 2 years for mothers studying at universities.  The list goes on.

Prime Minister Orbán also announced that the government is establishing a new research institute, an international think tank in the field of European family policy. “If we combined all the knowledge in this room, we would already have a firm basis for the demographic change of course,” the PM noted, referring to the family policy expertise among the participants at the congress.

The challenge seems enormous, but Hungary has already seen a change in key indicators. The number of marriages is on the upswing, the number of divorces has fallen, and the number of abortions has dropped by a quarter over the last six years. Reversing Europe’s demographic decline begins with a determined belief that it’s possible to change course.