By Callum Sloper
Many European countries are facing the consequences of ageing populations, though only a handful of them are also having to cope with the problem of a declining population. Hungary is one example where the government is dealing with both an ageing population and a higher death rate than birth rate. This causes social and economic issues, such as a deficit in the labour force which in turn may lead to a lack of tax revenues needed to fund the ever-growing pension funds on which millions of people depend. Whilst most Western countries depend on young, economically active immigrants to counter declining birth rates and ageing populations, Hungary has taken a different approach.
Since 2010, the country has been led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, head of the governing Fidesz party. Orbán and his ‘national conservative’ Fidesz colleagues’ approach to the demographic issue starkly contrasts the methods used by of most of their European neighbours. The current hungarian government has chosen to avoid using immigration as a solution to their population crisis, instead promoting what it considers to be ‘family values’ to reverse the current trends.
Orbán recently announced that Hungarian women who have 4 children or more will become exempt from paying income tax for life. The government will also offer couples a loan of roughly £27,400, which will be cancelled once they have 3 children. Orbán used the announcement of the new policy to criticise Europe’s immigration-dependant approach and claimed that “Hungarian people think differently.” In his State of the Nation Address, held on February 10, he claimed that “We do not need numbers. We need Hungarian children.”
While it is true that many European governments use immigration to fill the gap in the workforce, some countries such as Serbia also use tactics similar to Hungary’s in an attempt to increase national birth rates. In March 2018 the Serbian government announced that first-time mothers would get a one-time payment of £740, followed by further monthly allowances for their second and third children. Many countries in Western Europe also use similar child-support systems where parents receive financial help to raise children, although they do not tend to give anywhere near as much as what Hungary has proposed.
A major factor in the decision to try and increase Hungarian birth rates to fix demographic issues has to do with Orbán’s anti-immigration program. The Fidesz party passionately believes in protecting their national culture and feels that immigration negatively impacts this, with Orbán taking particular issue with Islamic and Middle-Eastern immigration. Whether this strategy to increase birth rates will succeed or not will only become apparent in time.