Prague, Czech Republic – The four members of the Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary) launched a “pro-family coalition” during a conference held in Warsaw earlier this month. But details remain sketchy, at best.
“For us, family is the foundation,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who hosted the event organised as part of Poland’s Visegrad Group presidency and virtually attended by the ministers in charge of family affairs of the four Central European countries. “Society without families would be like civilisation without culture or mathematics without numbers.”
“Family is the foundation”
“In families, the fundamental mechanism of empathy and desire for love are born […] Family is, alongside the state, the greatest creation of humanity,” the Polish Premier added.
The self-declared goal of the new coalition launched by Visegrad Group countries is to promote pro-family policies at the local, national and EU level. The V4 ministers in charge of social and family affairs also signed a joint declaration outlining their “cooperation to conduct research in the field of family support and family needs, in parallel in our four countries.”
Policies aimed at supporting families are key “because the happiness of the family is in fact the happiness of the whole country,” according to Poland’s Minister for Family and Social Policy Marlena Malag.
“The Visegrad Group sets an example to Europe in terms of demography and demonstrate that a working solution can be based on internal resources,” echoed her counterpart in Hungary, Katalin Novak.
“A lot of inspiration and great ideas can be found in the group like Poland inspired us to introduce a personal income tax exemption for young adults,” she said, referring to a law passed last month by the Hungarian Parliament exempting people under 25 from paying personal income tax.
Visegrad nations struggle with shrinking populations
Rapidly declining populations are the driving force behind Central European governments’ pro-natalist policies, which some critics have described as outdated and retrograde in the way it restricts women to their “child-bearing role.”
But while governments across the region have implemented large-scale policies and handed out financial incentives to encourage women to have more children, birth rates remain low, and young adults continue to postpone the decision to get married and start a family – a long-term trend only exacerbated by the pandemic.
According to UN predictions, the total population of Visegrad countries could decrease by more than 30% by 2100.
During the event in Warsaw, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki praised his government’s flagship “500+” child benefit program. But while the policy, which hands out monthly payments to parents for each of their children, has been praised for providing an additional safety net to struggling and low-income families, official data suggest it has failed in reversing Poland’s declining demographic trends and has not led to Poles having more children.
Although more vulnerable to this trend that its neighbours, Poland is not the only one concerned. EU calculations estimate that the populations of Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic could drop by 28%, 19% and 8%, respectively, by the end of the century.
A V2+2 initiative?
Despite being presented as a joint regional platform to coordinate their action in this field, the coalition might in effect be more of a strictly Polish-Hungarian initiative to promote “pro-family values”, presented by the governments in Warsaw and Budapest as a key pillar of their Christian-conservative agenda.
“Like many other Visegrad initiatives, this ‘pro-family coalition’ is mainly meant to foster coordination and discussion, without anything really tangible,” notes Pavlina Janebova, a Central Europe expert at AMO, a Prague-based think-tank.
“They agreed on the minimum they could agree on, which is the need to encourage their population to have more children to combat their declining demography,” she told Kafkadesk. “But while Poland and Hungary put a lot of emphasis on the matter, the Czech Republic and Slovakia remain more distant, more reluctant.”