Tuesday, June 13, 2017

International Call to Promote and Protect Families during the Budapest Family Summit

Between 25-28 May 2017, I had the honor of participating in the Budapest Family Summit that consisted of four important pro – family and pro – life events, as a guest of the Hungarian government. The four events were: the Hungarian Demographic Forum, the World Congress of families, the International Forum of Families and the One Of Us Conference. I had the privilege to speak at the Hungarian Demographic Forum which was organized by the Hungarian Government. I participated in a panel that consisted of members of the (European) Parliament and Government Commissioner Máriusz Révész. It was chaired by Bence Rétvári, Deputy Minister of Human Capacities. In my remarks at the Demographic Forum, I made a reference to the demographic situation for families in Europe today and underlined the need to uphold the traditional definition of marriage, press for the respect of the sovereignty of the family and rethink our economic model. You can find the full text of my speech below.

Excellencies, Dear Ministers,
Distinguished Members of the European Parliament,
Honorable Members of Parliament,
Dear guests,

I am deeply honored by the opportunity to address the Budapest Demographic Forum. I would also like to congratulate the organizers for showing interest for the state of Europe’s families. For the organization I represent, the European Christian Political Movement, families are the cornerstone of our society and deserve all the support they can get. We recognize the family, based on marriage between one man and one woman, as the most important social entity, preceding the state and any other community or group.  Life starts in the family and relations start in the family.  I am glad that also the President of the European Parliament recognized the importance of families last week, with the opportunity of the International Day of Families. Mr Tajani underlined that the “family is the core element of our social order and has a fundamental role in the formation of our youth and the transmission of the values on which our common life is founded”

Families  are also a critical precondition for a successful coexistence for the people of Europe. Within a family, every human being learns that he/she is not lord over his/her own self. Each family member is unconditionally accepted. Within family, children practice cooperation and find the ability for self-assertionThe examination of the demographic situation in Europe today gives us a clear picture on how challenging our times are for families. The latest report of the Institute for Family Policies (published in 2014) on the demographic situation in Europe; a report published every 7 years, made some characteristic findings:  

It shows that migration contributes significantly to population growth in Europe and that the natural population growth from families is decreasing. Europe’s population is agingThe low birth rate and the increase in population has caused an increase in the average age of Europe’s population which has almost reached 42 years of age (from 36 years in 1993).

A dramatic drop in marriage rates in Europe is witnessed. Nearly 1 million fewer marriages occur every year in comparison with 1980. Every day, 370 fewer marriages occur in comparison with 1980, representing a loss of 30,3%. Additionally, there is a spike in divorces. One marriage is broken every 30 seconds with a million divorces per year. Moreover, 4 out of 10 marriages end before the 10th year, a tendency that is causing an alarming instability in marriages. Overall, one in every two marriages in Europe ends in divorce.

Finally, European households have increasingly fewer children with 7 out of 10 European households bearing no children. Half of the households with children have only one child and only 1 out of 8 households with children have 3 or more children.

I believe that there are three reasons for these worrying trends. First, the traditional definition of family and marriage is increasingly under question. Secondly, the position of the family as the starting point of our society and the rights of parents to make choices for the future of their children is being compromised. Thirdly, families find it difficult to flourish within our current economic model that puts profits above everything else. We therefore need to uphold the traditional definition of marriage, press for the respect of the sovereignty of the family and rethink our economic model. 

a) Uphold the traditional definition of marriage

Up to recent decades, the traditional definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman was widely accepted. However, in recent decades, there are attempts to compromise and alter this definition. A recent example comes unfortunately from my home country. On the 18th of May, in the Dutch House of Representatives a new report from the Dutch State Committee on the "Re-evaluation of Parenthood: Child and Parents in the 21st Century" has been dicussed. Following the legalization of same-sex marriage and the adoption by same-sex couples, this controversial report recommends that genetic parenthood is not the leading factor in the definition of parenthood anymore. The leading factor should be the choice of natural or intending parents to decide to form whatever form of family they like. They can even decide that their children will have multiple parents. A family can therefore be comprised by one father and one mother, or by more mothers and fathers.

The rationale behind initiatives like this is that the choice of parents is more important than the right of a child to have a healthy family. We in ECPM recognize the family as the most important social entity in the world. It precedes the state and any other community or group.The natural family is a micro-society where elementary skills and experiences are being conveyed. Healthy families lead to a healthy society while fragmented families do the opposite. Of course, there are cases when it is not possible for a child to be raised by one mother and one father. For example, when one mother does not want to proceed with an abortion and decides to raise her child by herself. These courageous women deserve our unconditional support and praise for they chose life. If we believe in human dignity, we must stand by their side. There are also other instances in life when one child has to grow without his mother and his father. Support should be provided in this case as well. However, we should not be led to change our perception of family as an institution that stems from one man and one woman

Newly introduced concepts like the multi-parent family create an unstable situation for the child. It's not easy to fill in parenthood with multiple people. If more adults are involved as an educator involved in a child's upbringing, there may be more uncertainty and less clarity on who has the main responsibility and less certainty on who the children can attach to in their formative years. These arrangements also lead to conflicts over important decisions (e.g.: the choice of child's place of residence). It is a fact that the legal implementation of same-sex couples as family raising children has moved legislation to the point towards the legal introduction of multi-parenthood. The problem is that the preferences of adults have overruled the rights of the child. At the same time, we see that the state increasingly interferes in family life. A strong new balance is needed which can only rest in a strong legal position of the biological relation between parent and child. 

On this front, there are some encouraging developments from Romania. In 2016, the civic initiative Coalition for Family gathered three million signatures asking for a referendum for a constitutional amendment that would safeguard the definition of marriage as “the union of one man and one woman”. The Romanian Constitutional Court approved the initiative in July 2016. The initiative was also approved a few days ago by the by the Romanian Chamber of Deputies. If it is also approved by the Senate, then the road is open for the referendum. This example shows us that mobilization on this issue can bring results and become a channel through which the voice of the citizens is genuinely heard. 


b) Press for the respect of the sovereignty of the family

We in ECPM strongly believe in the sovereignty of the family. The family is not a mere collection of individuals and therefore legislation based solely on the individual will eventually collide with the rights of the family. ECPM believes that strong and healthy families create strong and healthy societies. Family rights should not be a point of discussion or pressured all the time but self-evident. 

Therefore, the right of parents to raise and educate their children according to their philosophical or religious beliefs should always be respected. It is a right enshrined in Article 14 of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights. EU Member States should respect this right and develop policies that support and not interfere to the role of parents. Finally, the EU Institutions’ role is to monitor developments at national level and facilitate the sharing of best-practices throughout the EU

c) Rethink our economic model

Families need a certain financial space in which to develop. Unfortunately, the economic model of Western societies does not help the creation of families. As a result, couples are less keen to have children and women are waiting longer to have children. We in ECPM believe that our economic policies should aim in improving the quality of family life. The quality of family life determines the experience of the relationships within the family as well as the quality of life of those living in a family. People should work to make a living and not live to work. Family should not be just another link in the circle of production and consumption but ultimately the reason and source of the economy. 

On the contrary, our current economic model puts productivity at the center of everything. The purpose of each individual is to boost economic growth. ECPM promotes policies supporting parenthood and creating conditions conductive to child-raising. The recognition of the family in all policies is the most basic step forward to work on the improvement of the quality of family life and the cornerstone for the wellbeing of our societies. As Christian-democrats, we state that this recognition must grow in national, regional and local political bodies. On the European and national levels, it is becoming more and more clear to policy makers that the importance of the family needs to be emphasized. 

We therefore encourage each national government to draw up specific objectives, targets, timeline, responsibilities and to monitor and evaluate their family policies. We also encourage the increase of the public expenditure on maternal and paternal leave and the public spending on childcare and early education. There are several specific fields on the quality of family life that need special attention such as: unpaid domestic and care work, caring responsibilities and sharing of household, childcare costs and breastfeeding in the workplace. At the national level, taxation policies need to be family-friendly. It is essential not to individualize taxation when it comes to families. Even in The Netherlands people start to see the negative impact at families of this individualization of taxation on families. The Dutch Senate now demands from the government that it ends the situation that single-income families are overburdened by taxation. 

If Europe as a continent wants to stay demographically sustainable, then nations should invest in the family. This means that families and especially women should not be financially penalized when they choose to spend more time with their beloved ones. If women want to combine family life together with (unpaid) work than member states should facilitate this as good as possible. 

Finally I would like to point to the fact that there is an increasing number of ‘working poor’ in Europe. Families who need to sustain themselves by taking on several jobs pro income provider. It is obvious that we cannot speak about healthy families when parents have no time due to their work that at the same time does not provide sufficient income. We cannot avoid the big question of inequality and the gap of payment between the highest and lowest function levels. There is need for a new and inclusive economic approach that sustains all families. We as ECPM do not want to look away from the fact that the economic system needs reform if it will be sustainable and sustain all family life.


Conclusion

Despite the many assaults on the traditional family, we know, that still most people in Europe want to preserve and protect the institution of family. On one of the remnants of the fallen Berlin Wall in Germany is this quote: “Many small people, in many small places, doing many small things can change the face of the world”. I am deeply convinced that we should not let ourselves be overwhelmed by European or other diplomatic pressure to change the notion of family.

I would like to warmly thank you again for giving me the opportunity to address this conference. I pray that God’s blessing will be with everyone who fights for family values in Europe today.

Thank you.



















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