Towards a new demographic spring
For several decades now, Europe has been the continent the most affected by a global demographic trend. As recently revealed by Eurostat, “more deaths than births were registered in the EU, meaning that the natural change of the EU population was negative”. The deficit is only compensated for by net migration.
The figures and statistics on fertility speak for themselves, the evidence of the data showing that there has been a sharp reduction in fertility for several decades. Based on the factual observations, FAFCE has taken up the issue, without limiting itself to a stand on principles.
Promoting a social order that favours the family
The European Commission analyses the probable effect of ageing populations on social expenditure. The financial problems are imperative. But what else is implied by a society that will not renew itself down the generations?
The year 2017 saw the adoption of the European Pillar of Social Rights, a text with important symbolic significance. During the public consultation launched by the European Commission, FAFCE was keen to highlight the challenges posed by work-life balances, the ageing population and unemployment. The Pillar provides that “parents and people with caring responsibilities have the right to suitable leave, flexible working arrangements and access to care services. [...]”
This is effectively an assertion that the family in itself has rights commensurate with its responsibilities, as confirmed by the Charter of the Rights of the Family: “Families have a right to a social and economic order in which the organization of work permits the members to live together, and does not hinder the unity, well-being, health and the stability of the family[...]”
The role of the European Union
Within the EU, policies relating to families are the responsibility of each Member State and the FAFCE members act at national level, which legitimises the organisation’s capacity to represent European families.
However, the EU could have a positive influence on a culture favourable to the family and, as a result, on a demographic spring. For example, with the proposal for legislation on the work-life balance, the focus should be on the well-being of the child and those most vulnerable in our societies, rather than careers. Let us hope that the inter-institutional negotiations due to start this autumn progress in this direction.
FAFCE would like to see a society that has people and their families at the centre when considering the new forms of work that result from the rapid development of the digital economy. This is also the context for the work of the European Sunday Alliance.
Fundamentally, all political decisions taken at European level could have an effect on demographics. The European Economic and Social Committee, has issued an opinion entitled “Family policy and demographic change”, in which it confirms that: “In view of the current demographic situation in the European Union, it is extremely important to identify what impact past policies have had on fertility levels.” This is a challenge that the next European Commission needs to meet if it is to act for the future of our continent: to evaluate the impact on the family of each new piece of proposed legislation (“family mainstreaming”).
Moreover, the European institutions provide an ideal framework for sharing good practice, including policies on housing, access to credit, retirement arrangements, etc. These are but a few of the areas covered by a sustainable family policy capable of offering a long-term solution to the demographic challenges.
In the context of this debate, it is impossible to ignore the role of what Pope Francis denounced as an individualist culture that has a huge influence on personal life choices and social behaviour patterns, with an inward-looking logic like that of the mythological character, Narcissus.
It is essential to reassert the unique, fundamental and irreplaceable place of the family in society, in order to promote the favourable development of peoples. Because, ultimately, “openness to life is at the centre of true development” (Caritas in Veritate, 28).
In the forthcoming European elections, let us respond to the huge demographic challenges by appealing to Europe to consider life: “If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society” (Laudato Si’, 208).
President of FAFCE
Translated from the original text in French
The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.