BUDAPEST, Hungary (ChurchMilitant.com) - Hungary is stepping up its fight against population decline and replacement.
This week, the Hungarian government launched a national consultation on how citizens are responding to the pro-family policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. In the coming days, more than eight million households across the country will receive a 10-question "Defence of Families" survey asking their opinion on the administration's approach to Hungary's demographic challenges.
Commenting on the initiative, State Secretary for Family, Youth and International Affairs Katalin Novak put it bluntly: "Europe is the continent of empty cradles; there aren't enough children."
Since coming to power in 2010, Orbán has fought to reverse decades of population decline by instituting new measures to boost Hungary's birth rate, instead of opening the country's doors to waves of Muslim migrants, as countries across Western Europe have done.
"In spite of the significant mass migration toward Europe, Hungary wants to rely on its internal resources," Novak said. "We see the future in Hungarian children."
Orbán's policies have infuriated European Union officials, with lawmakers in Brussels often slamming the populist leader as a xenophobic demagogue.
"In recent years, finding the proper response to Europe's demographic decline has become one of the biggest sources of disagreement between European and Hungarian politics," Orbán cabinet spokesman Zoltán Kovács observed when announcing the national consultation.
"While Brussels bureaucrats and the European liberal, pro-migration mainstream see immigration as the necessary and unavoidable solution, the Hungarian government stands committed to the idea of increasing birth rate through more effective family support measures," he said.
By participating in the survey, Hungarians "can send a strong message to Brussels that the renewal of Europe is unimaginable without the strengthening of families as well," added Novak.
The questionnaire asks respondents if they agree that "population decline should be tackled not by immigration, but by stronger support for families." Additional questions include whether motherhood should be recognized as a full-time job; if children's right to both a mother and a father should be constitutionally protected; and whether "the intellectual, spiritual, and physical development of children is a value that the state should defend."
The national consultation builds on a series of pro-family initiatives enacted during Orbán's administration.
Since 2010, Hungary has more than doubled the amount of money spent annually on family support to 4.8 percent of GDP.
In 2016, the government introduced the Family Housing Allowance Program, which offers up to 20 million HUF — more than $75,000 — per family for housing. Lawmakers also slashed the value-added tax rate on newly built homes from 27 percent to 5 percent, specifically to encourage home ownership among young couples.
Authorities have also sought to reduce the country's abortion rate. In 2011, a government-sponsored pro-life campaign was launched; in cities and towns across the country, ads appeared featuring images of an unborn baby in the womb alongside a caption reading, "I understand that you are not yet ready for me, but give me up to the adoption agency, LET ME LIVE!" (An EU commissioner later blasted the campaign, saying it "goes against European values.")
In 2012, the Hungarian Constitution was amended to declare that life begins at conception.
Though abortion remains legal through the first trimester, Orbán's pro-life, pro-family measures are bearing fruit. From 2010 to 2017, the annual number of abortions plummeted by more than one-third, from 40,449 to 28,500.
During the same period, the number of divorces has fallen by almost a quarter, from 23,873 to 18,600.
In the past few years, the fertility rate has risen from 1.23 to 1.49 — an increase of more than 20 percent — and today, approximately 200,000 Hungarian families have three or more children. The government has responded by laying out an aggressive demographic target, aiming to return the country to population stability — a fertility rate of 2.1 — by 2030.
Hungary is not alone in its fight to reverse population decline. In 2016, Poland's conservative Catholic government has launched a program to provide a monthly subsidy for every second child under 18.
Earlier this year, Italy's new populist government created a "ministry of the family" to tackle the country's flatlining fertility rate. Last month, authorities proposed new budgetary measures to "make children and cultivate the land" by allotting families expecting a third child a free, dormant plot of state-owned farmland in the south of the country.
Speaking to the importance of his pro-family initiatives, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini declared in July that "the government will be measured on the number of newborns."