Support for families has been a feature of illiberal governments in Hungary and Poland for years. Family-friendly policies are not only popular with voters, but they also align with conservative social and religious agendas, with leaders explicitly saying they want to tackle the demographic crisis by increasing national birth rates rather than ‘by encouraging immigration.
Since 2010, the Viktor Orban government in Hungary has introduced multiple financial and tax incentives to encourage couples to have children. Married couples can receive up to 10 million forints (30,000 euros) in benefits if they produce three children in ten years. Working mothers with four children are exempt from personal income tax, and families can even get taxpayer-funded help with the purchase of a new car. A recent measure distributed 3 million forints (8,500 euros) to each family with at least one child to finance housing repairs and another 3 million forints in cheap loans.
The Hungarian government generously devotes 4% of GDP to helping families, although it mainly targets working families rather than those from marginalized communities like the Roma. Nevertheless, he can now boast of having raised the birth rate from 1.23 per woman in 2010 to 1.55 today.
Like Warsaw, Budapest bases these policies on a very restrictive – and therefore discriminatory – definition of the family. In May 2020, in the midst of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hungary’s parliament passed a bill banning transgender people from sex reassignment in official documents. Then in December, using the coronavirus state of emergency, he passed another bill that made adoption nearly impossible for same-sex couples. Same-sex marriage is illegal in Hungary, but couples could adopt if one of them applied for it as a single partner. Singles will now need special permission from the Minister of Families to do so.
Experts like Katalin Kevehazi, President of the Budapest-based JOL-LET (Wellbeing) Foundation and a leading specialist on women in the labor market, argue that supporting traditional families has a political dimension beyond fertility rates. . “In general, all V4 governments have a very conservative approach towards women, considering their central role as mothers and mothers of children,” Kevehazi told BIRN in a previous interview.
“But in Hungary, the government and the Prime Minister himself go further and talk about ‘saving the nation and the family’ and ‘preserving the Hungarian nation for the future’. It is not just a family support program, but part of a “nation building” program, ”she said.
The Hungarian Ministry of Family Affairs did not respond to questions from BIRN regarding the Pro Familia Declaration, although Family Minister Katalin Novak, a Star of the international anti-gender equality movement, proudly announced its approval of the document on social media.
“The Visegrad group sets an example for Europe in terms of demography and demonstrates that working solutions can be based on internal resources. A lot of inspiration and good ideas can be found in the group, for example Poland inspired us to introduce an income tax exemption for young adults ”, she said tweeted.
In Poland, the PiS came to power in 2015 with an irresistible offer to voters: a monthly allowance of 500 zloty (over 100 euros) per child to families with children. Just days after the signing of the Pro Familia Declaration, the government launched on May 15 a new package dubbed the “Polish Deal”, which included additional financial assistance for families with children, who are expected to get more than 2,600 euros for the custody of their second child between the first and third year of life. The PiS also pledged guarantees for mortgages and the release of house building from bureaucratic burdens.
Academic Elzbieta Korolczuk calls this “social chauvinism” and argues that, combined with what one might call a “cautious and ultra-conservative agenda”, it is becoming a popular model not only in central Europe, but elsewhere in countries. countries like Italy and Sweden.
Korolczuk says this is exactly the effect Poland seeks as it seeks allies in Western Europe in its attempt to “integrate the conservative agenda into a package with social chauvinism across the EU” .
The growing popularity of this model is already visible in Slovakia, the fourth signatory of the Pro Familia Declaration. At the beginning of May, the former Prime Minister and current Minister of Finance, Igor Matovic, announced at a press conference that Slovakia aspires to become the “European leader of policies in favor of the family” by increasing allowances and tax breaks for families with children. Since then, politicians in the ruling coalition have competed to outdo each other in formulating family-friendly policies.
In a response sent to BIRN on the implications of the Pro Familia Declaration, the Slovak Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Family stated that “the government considers family support as a priority tool to solve the problem of unfavorable economic development “. As such, the government would soon announce a national strategy for families, comprising housing support, direct transfers to families and “building a new model of family policy that requires measured investments in the family”, he said. he declared.
The Minister of Labor, Social Affairs and Family, Milan Krajniak, whose signature is on the Pro Familia Declaration, is a notorious populist conservative Christian, representing the Sme Rodina (We are the family) party. As Minister, he was responsible for erasing the term “gender equality” from legislation and policy documents. Feminist groups received no funding from her ministry, although many received top marks from experts.
In April, Krajniak was keynote speaker at an online conference on the Geneva Consensus Statement, a global anti-abortion initiative by Mike Pompeo, the former US secretary of state. Organized by the ultra-conservative Polish legal group Ordo Iuris, which is behind many of the Polish government’s proposals to restrict the rights of women and LGBT people, the conference brought together politicians and activists from around the world to discuss how to fight against what he calls “gender ideology”.
In his speech, Krajniak mentionned that Central Europe was grateful to the West for having liberated it from communism, but that it was now the responsibility of Central Europe “to save the West from liberalism”.
The minister added that it should be the region’s “moral commitment” to “remind Western Europe that limitless liberalism, individualism and the destruction of social cohesion and bonds, such as the family, will lead to disaster “.