Budapest, Hungary – Hungary has summoned the Swedish Ambassador in Budapest to the Foreign Ministry after Sweden’s Social Affairs Minister Annika Strandhall wrote on Twitter that “what is happening in Hungary is alarming”.
Referring to the 7-point “family protection plan” unveiled by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and meant to curb the demographic decline of the Hungarian population with a string of policies to encourage births, the Social Democratic Swedish minister also said that this plan “reeks of the 1930’s”.
“Now Orban wants to have more ‘real’ Hungarian children. This kind of policy will harm the autonomy for which women have struggled for decades”, Strandhall argued.
Sweden is known for carrying out one of the world’s most vocal feminist foreign policies and for actively promoting gender equality through its diplomacy and envoys posted abroad.
On Friday night, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called these comments “unacceptable”: “Hungary is spending money on families and Sweden is spending it on migrants”, he added, before summoning the Swedish ambassador in Hungary over those remarks.
In his annual state of the union speech last week, Prime Minister Viktor Orban unveiled a series of measures aimed at reversing the country’s plummeting population trend. These measures include an income tax exemption for women who have four children or more, as well as interest-free housing and car loans for families.
Reelected last year for a third consecutive term, Viktor Orban has been implementing increasingly radical anti-immigration policies, pledging to defend Europe’s “Christian roots” against illegal migrants from Muslim countries. Ahead of the May European Parliament elections, he’s also been trying to unite anti-immigration forces in the EU, repeatedly clashing with Brussels and other European partners over the issue and relying on the Visegrad Group of Central European states to present a united front against the so-called “pro-immigration forces” in the EU.
With one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe, a strong emigration drive and one of the strictest immigration policies in the bloc, Hungary’s population may drastically decline over the next decades. According to U.N. projections, the country might lose 15% of its population by 2050. And as Viktor Orban has consistently repeated, he refuses to rely on immigration to reverse that trend, instead implementing policies and tax incentives to encourage Hungarian women to have more children.
This doesn’t seem to be the best of times for relations between Central European countries and their Scandinavian partners: last week, Poland and Norway mutually expelled diplomats in a tit-for-tat exchange… once again, the controversy relates to the topic of childcare and family.