On Thursday, May 25th, pro-family leaders from around the world gathered in the capital of Hungary for what local organizers have dubbed the “Budapest Family Summit.” Day One of the event was the second “Budapest Demographic Forum”—a focus on the demographic issues of declining birth and fertility rates which are plaguing virtually all of the world’s developed countries, including Europe. Despite long-discredited theories about the dangers of over-population, the real crisis of the West is declining population—especially as other countries (including the Muslim world) continue to grow. The event continued Friday and Saturday with the latest World Congress of Families. Family Research Council is being represented by myself and Senior Fellow Travis Weber.
One unique aspect of the Budapest summit, in comparison with other World Congress of Families events, is that the Hungarian government itself is a principal sponsor. Katalin Novak, Hungary’s Minister of State for Family, Youth, and International Affairs, is the event’s chief organizer and host.
Furthermore, the highlight of Thursday’s kickoff session was an address by the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, who returned to Budapest from the NATO leaders summit in Brussels in time to address the Forum. Orban is the dynamic and sometimes controversial leader of Hungary’s governing center-right coalition (he was the subject of a major profile in Politico last year). In 2015, he closed Hungary’s southern border to a flood of illegal immigrants from the south. Orban is also unashamedly pro-family—when his coalition was large enough to amend the country’s constitution, one provision they added was to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
In his address to the Demographic Summit today, Orban did not hesitate to link the issues of immigration and family in the context of the “competition of civilizations.” He bluntly warned that Europe, with its declining population, is “old, rich, and weak,” while the growing countries around it are “young, poor, and strong”—making the likely direction of population flows obvious.
Yet while some people suggest that the West should welcome immigrants precisely as a solution to its population woes, Orban bluntly rejected that option, saying that the countries of Central Europe, including Hungary, prefer the “renewal of our own resources.”
Toward that end, he declared that 2018 will be “the Year of Families” in Hungary, and announced a goal of raising Hungary’s fertility rate (the average number of children borne by a woman in her lifetime) to 2.1 (considered the “replacement” level necessary to maintain a stable population) by 2030.
One notable characteristic at international gatherings like this is that in Europe, even conservative governments are more likely to see government intervention and incentives as a solution to family issues, while in the United States, most pro-family conservatives are also supporters of a free market and limited government, and therefore are more skeptical of government intervention. Orban, for example, proposed to write off student loans and offer subsidies for mortgage payments for families with three or more children. He also proposed building more child-care facilities for the benefit of working parents—although American pro-family activists generally prefer policies that might make it easier for parents to care for their own children at home.
It should be noted that several speakers made clear that the intention is not for government to dictate how many children people should have or to punish those who choose not to become parents. However, surveys regarding how many children people would like to have consistently show that the number is higher than the number they actually have. So the goal of pro-natal policy is not to make people have children they don’t want, but to clear away obstacles that may prevent them from having as many children as they do want.
In addition to Orban and several other government officials from Hungary and other European countries, speakers at the Forum included former FRC staffers like Pat Fagan of MARRI and Allan Carlson.
Stay tuned for further updates from Budapest.