The community of the family is the foundation of the European Community

Mieczyslaw E. Janowski

Proper functioning of each society (understood in its local, tribal, clan, national, state dimension) or civilisation defined as a whole depends on the family. In the countries of the European Union, including Poland, one can see far reaching changes concerning the situation of the family. Perhaps the most drastic changes are demographic. Europe is getting old. The consequence of such a situation is a crisis of the family in Europe. It is the crisis of the fundamental social cell and the most precious tissue of each nation that guarantees its continuity and development in all possible fields. This crisis can be described by statistical charts illustrating its present dimension and indicating future prognoses. It also has its economic and political face. However, it also concerns very sensitive spheres of life: spiritual and moral. Taking that into account one should focus on the phenomena and facts, which we treat with indifference and which are very dangerous in a longer time perspective. One should stress that the future prognoses based on demographic analyses come true to a much bigger extent than the prognoses of economists or the weather forecast. Overwhelmed by daily events we should also reflect on how we can reverse these unfavourable tendencies. I would like to present the readers of ‘Niedziela’ a short diagnosis of the situation in question based on the latest reliable materials. I spoke about that during the conference entitled ‘Between the community of homelands and the community of families’, which was held in Czestochowa on 13-14 June 2008.

Europe is growing old

As I have already mentioned our continent is growing old at a horrifying tempo. 100 years ago the population of Europe constituted ca. 17% of the world population. Currently, it is less than 8%. In 2050 it will decrease to 5% according to the prediction figures. The decrease in Europe’s population is in contrast with the rapid population growth in the developing countries. In 1950 there were 2.5 billion people on the Earth, today there are 6.6 billion. It is predicted that in 2050 our planet will have 9.1 billion inhabitants. As far as the demographic situation in the EU countries is concerned it is the worst in the new member states, especially in Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania. The only countries that witness some increase are Cyprus, Malta and Slovenia. The countries whose situations are most favourable are the old ‘15’. The best situation is in Ireland, Luxembourg, Spain and France (mainly thanks to the Muslims).
The table of the fertility rate shows 1.56 children (comparing with the USA – 2.09) for average woman in the EU. The total fertility rate, the expected number of children born per woman in her child-bearing years, should rise up to 2.10 in order to have complete replacement of population. So the birth rate is very low. It means that more people die than are born. Unfortunately, the present fertility rate of Polish women, about 1.3 children per woman, is one of the lowest in Europe.

Why do we not want children?

The study of the Robert Bosch Foundation conducted in 2004 concerning the future demographic policies shows that generally women would like to have more children. For example, In Poland the declared average number of children is 2.33. The high cost of having a child and fears connected with its future are the two most frequently mentioned reasons for not having children at all or not conceiving another child. The sad fact is that almost 2/3 of the European families have no children! Only 17% of Europeans have two or more children. The report of the Institute for Family Policies for the year 2007 brings even more shocking data: in Europe abortion is made every 27 seconds! Currently, one in five pregnancies is aborted, which means that abortions are the main cause of death of the European inhabitants! Is this a testimony of our ‘European freedom’ or rather our modern barbarity? The decrease in reproductiveness in the last several decades occurred after the post-war period of rapid baby boom. The children who were born in that period are the present generations of 50-60 year old people who are approaching their retirement. When the post-war baby boom retires there will be a considerable increase of those who will be financially dependent on the shrinking part of the working society. Together with the technological development, common availability of many goods and services, material things have begun to be the main goal of a considerable percentage of population all over the world. Currently, the ‘norm’ in economically developed country, including Poland, is life according to the principle, ‘Have more than to be more’. These ‘norms’ cause the need to earn more and more. The general growth of the level of life and the promotion of materialised style of life make young people feel pressure. One can see this pressure even in pupils who more and more focus only on their future career, pay, entertainment, etc. Higher feelings are secondary. This situation causes problems in establishing your own families. Therefore, we can have an increasing number of singles. In 2007 every fourth person in the EU countries was single.

Immigration and the family

In October 2006 the European Commission published a document which included a demographic analysis of the future of the European Union. Commissioner Vladimir Spidla presented the threats that Europe faced, ‘Today for every four people at productive age there is one person over 65. In 2050 only two people will work for one retired person.’ The demographic prognoses of Eurostat show that Poland belongs to these EU countries in which the decrease in the population at productive age is big. It is predicted that the number of people at productive age in the EU in 2050 will be 17.4% fewer than in 2006. For Poland it is estimated to be nearly 28%. At the beginning of the change of the system our society has entered the area of narrowed replacement of generations. In 1989, for the first time in Poland’s history, there was less than one daughter for one average mother. Altogether in the years 1997-2007 we lost ca. 180,000 people. An essential factor of the real decrease in Poland’s population is immigration. The data estimated on the basis of various sources show that at the end of 2006 there were ca, 2,000,000 Poles abroad in temporary immigration, including 1.6 million in Europe. Recently, because of the rising power of our currency, we have observed the tendency of returns to Poland. Immigration has also been the reason for the crisis of contemporary families. The most dangerous fact is that a decisive majority of migrants are young people who were to establish families in the near future. Their immigration automatically causes an acceleration of ‘growing old’ of the Polish society and lower birth rate. Immigration (to find jobs) also leads to crises in families because the immigration of one parent often makes children half orphans and a long absence of a spouse results in a bigger number of divorces. Currently, almost every 30th second one marriage ends in the EU. In the years 1996-2006 there were over 10 million marital breakdowns, which means that over 15 million European children live in incomplete families. Moreover, one should notice that people marry at a later age. The average age of Polish women who get married was 25 in 2006 as compared to the early 1990s when they got married at the age of less than 23. In turn, the average age for men to marry is 27. The situation is even worse in the countries of the old ‘15’: the average age of woman who gets married is almost 29 and for man is over 31.

The state vs. the family

The situation of families is influenced by the rather poor legal and economic protection of women who decide to become mothers. Many a time they postpone their decisions to have children because of fear of losing jobs and difficulties to find another one. Unfortunately, it occurs that due to biological reasons they cannot have children. Consequently, the number of childless families is increasing.
The financial help of the state is an important issue for families. The European Union spends on average 28% of GDP on Social Expenditure (differences between countries are very big, e.g. Sweden spends 32 % of GDP on Social Expenditure and Estonia and Latvia spend only 12.5%) but it sets aside only 2.1% of GDP for the family. Denmark, Luxembourg, Germany, Sweden and Austria are the countries that help families most. On the contrary: Poland, Malta, Spain, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Italy and Portugal se aside the least to help the family. Generally, the new member states are under the EU average as far as the financial help for families is concerned. For example, a family with two children in Luxembourg receives 471 euros a month, in Germany – 308 euros and in Bulgaria – only 23 euros. A Polish or Slovakian family receives only 32 euros a month. Therefore, the disproportions are huge.
This synthetic analysis, naturally, does not answer all questions concerning the future of the family in the UE and in Poland. However, we cannot claim that we do not know where we are heading. A child is not a toy and cannot be treated as some luxury as well. A child must be as its parents’ emanation and biological continuation the greatest value in family. If we do not want to lead to the demographic collapse of Europe we must change our attitudes towards the family. We must reject the present trends. If Europe does not want to be marginalised it must convert and discover its spiritual roots, which have Christian dimensions. If this does not happen we can repeat the words of George Weigel that we are committing a ‘demographic suicide’ through the systematic depopulation of our continent.

Family is the rock of civilisation

Naturally, there will be no vacuum in Europe. Now one can hear more clearly (Niall Ferguson, Oxford University) about ‘young Muslim communities living in the East and South of the Mediterranean area that consider colonisation of an aging Europe.’ The problems of families cannot be reduced to alarming statistics. We need good law, especially tax law that will support families. It is indispensible to treat parents’ work, especially mothers’ work, at home and children’s care, in a different way. We can add items on this list, which should include housing support for young married couples, prolonged maternity leaves, system of family pay, costs of education, care for the elderly, etc. It is necessary to create a family oriented atmosphere in the society, especially through the media and the world of culture. It is worth quoting the thought of the Holy Father Benedict XVI expressed in his Message for the World Day of Peace (1 January 2008), ‘The natural family, as an intimate communion of life and love, based on marriage between a man and a woman, constitutes “the primary place of ‘humanization' for the person and society", and a “cradle of life and love". The family is therefore rightly defined as the first natural society, “a divine institution that stands at the foundation of life of the human person as the prototype of every social order". The unforgettable Holy Father John Paul II taught in a similar spirit. He warned that for some time the institution of the family had faced constant attacks. The threats were very perilous and treacherous because they negated the irreplaceable value of family based on marriage. False alternatives for family were proposed and there were demands to make them legal.
May the European experiences, commencing with the fathers of the Community, especially Robert Shuman, allow us to see the family as the foundation – the rock of our civilisation. Let us not waste the occasion and let us build our common European house on rock and not on sand. And finally, a question, ‘Have we got any chances?’ My answer is, yes, we have. However, we need to make big efforts for the family and we need fervent prayer. Furthermore, love in families is needed for their existence and proper functioning. Love is the firm and fruitful bond.

Dr Mieczyslaw E. Janowski, member of the European Parliament, representing the Region of Podkarpacie, father of two daughters and two sons.

More data can be fund in the report: Evolution of the Family in Europe 2007 – Institute for Family Policies

"Niedziela" 40/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
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