Demographic challenges – political and policy answers

2018-10-16

Political Capital has published its study on contemporary demographic challenges in Europe and political and policy solutions to these issues. The most important conclusions of the study are the following:

  • The belief that all of Europe is uniformly hit by a demographic crisis is a myth. In the past 20 years, the continent has experienced vastly different processes in terms of population change. It is also a myth that nowadays only migration is making up for the population decline in EU member states. Data does not substantiate demographic narratives that try to explain these processes by contrasting the developed and undeveloped, and the Muslim and Christian world. The main problem in Europe is the disadvantageous transformation of society’s age composition, which is a threat to the sustainability of large provision systems (pensions, healthcare). Aging is a process that affects all European societies.
  • Based on its demographic indicators, Hungary can be grouped together with certain Southern European states (Greece, Italy, Portugal). These countries experience natural population decline, while the low level of immigration cannot counter-balance this trend. Hungary continues to be an insignificant target country in terms of international migration, but third-country labour migration to the country is increasing despite the sonorous governmental communication focusing on the refugee crisis. The reason for this is the increasingly severe skilled workers shortage, which is partly generated by emigration from Hungary. Emigration is disadvantageous to demographic processes and the labour market, but the situation is not impossible to handle compared to other Eastern European countries. The largest, irreversible loss caused by emigration is that Hungary seems to be losing the most skilled and creative layer of its youth.
  • Since its election victory in 2018, the Orbán government has declared on multiple occasions that remedying demographic problems is the most important issue for the next four years. The main goal is to raise the total fertility rate to 2.1 by 2030. The government believes a “demographic turn” is needed to achieve this, the main prerequisites of which are a long-term, stable family policy, the maintenance of substantial benefits to families and the preference for the traditional family model. With the latter goal in mind, the government’s rhetoric has further amplified extremely traditionalist approaches to demographic challenges, the framing of the issue in the context of fighting immigration, contrasting the East and the West and picturing family policy as a war of civilisations. However, this ideological approach does not only contradict real demographic challenges but – in part – even the government’s own policies and planned future family policy measures as well.
  • Despite the government’s statements, there is no unified Central European family policy model that can be contrasted with Western practices, not even in terms of the actual rejection of migration. Under the surface of the loud rhetoric rejecting all forms of migration prevalent in all V4 states, immigration from third countries is increasing, and this is supported through conscious measures implemented by the four governments.
  • The best family policy practices employed by European nations also fail to justify the government’s traditionalist ideological approach. In the countries where they have introduced progressive family policies, fertility is higher, and a reform process – as it is visible in Germany – could start positive processes. Experiences dictate that supporting and propagating the traditional family model can have a negative effect on fertility.

You can read the full study here (available only in Hungarian).

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