Speeches

5. 9. 2019 13:46

The Prime Minister’s address at the Demographic Summit in Budapest

The Prime Minister’s address at the Demographic Summit in Budapest, 5 September 2019.
The Prime Minister’s address at the Demographic Summit in Budapest, 5 September 2019.
On Thursday 5 September 2019 Prime Minister Andrej Babiš spoke at the Demographic Summit in Budapest.

Prime Minister, Your Excellencies, Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to thank His Excellency Viktor Orbán for inviting me to this summit.

As Katalin Novák said – and I’d like to thank her for visiting me in Prague and discussing the question of the family with me at length, and I’m very happy to be here with you and to be able to speak here today – the issue of demographic changes is not currently as popular as climate change, but the consequences of a low birth rate and an aging population might be just as grave for our present way of life. I’m therefore very pleased that the V4 countries are aware of this time bomb, whose impact will become fully apparent in several decades’ time, and are actively looking for a solution. We have a unique opportunity to show that Central Europe is a good place to live, a safe place, and one that offers the best conditions for families and children.

I’m no fan of catastrophic scenarios and scaremongering, but unfortunately the figures clearly show that we’re dying out, even though life is becoming dramatically longer. The long-term projection for the Czech population is not good. At the same time the ratio of old-age pensioners to people of working age is increasing, in our own country and throughout Europe. The structure of the population of Europe as a whole will change markedly. The proportion of people aged 65 or over is rising in Europe, while the proportion of children aged up to 14 is falling, although in recent years this decline has been slowing or has halted. Among people aged 65 or over, the greatest increase should be in persons aged over 85: in Slovakia or Romania their proportion will increase five-fold by 2060, and four-fold in the Czech Republic. In many developing countries the decline is not as rapid, so the outlook is catastrophic.

Children, children and once again children. That’s what this conference is about. I think you can tell that a country’s good if its people aren’t worried about their future. That the population is increasing, and not because of immigration. A good country is also able to come up with a pro-family policy that is effective and meets the needs of young people born after 1989. Young people are living in a different era to the one we lived in. Incidentally I turned 65 on Monday, so now I’m a pensioner too. It’s another world, and we lived under a different regime. We have to accept that and find a solution.

Among the V4 countries the Czech Republic has the highest birth rate, 1.7 children for each woman. Soon we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the revolution. We haven’t come up with any revolutionary pro-population measures, but Czechs love children and since 2011 the number of new-born children has been rising gradually.

At meetings of this kind there’s often talk of the need to motivate young people to start families. Pro-family measures in the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia all use similar instruments: flats for young people, loans with low or zero interest; we’re building new preschool facilities and setting up a system of tax relief for families with young children, and so on. Our government has also dramatically increased parental benefits, from 8,800 to 12,000 euro, for everyone with children up to four years old who doesn’t draw all these benefits before the end of the year. That’s how we’re working to ensure that every family has at least one and ideally two children.

There can be no objections in this regard, and I believe any kind of support for families is the right thing to do. Of course, all the measures I’ve listed are primarily aimed at families who then have one or two children, and I dare say that even without these measures they’d still have one or two children anyway.

However, families do not have children just so they can receive some kind of aid. Having a child is about values. Families know what a great commitment this is, and what a responsibility it is to raise a child. As Katalin said, I myself have four children, and for me that’s the meaning of life. We’re talking about this in my country. We have relatively long parental leave, one of the longest in Europe, four years. On the other hand 70 % of women have higher education, they want to return to work, and motivating women to go back to work as soon as possible runs counter to pro-family measures. We’re struggling with workforce shortages: we have the lowest level of unemployment in Europe and 350,000 job vacancies. While our birth rate is still rising slightly, we also have one of the highest numbers of working women who thanks to our long parental leave have often raised several children. We can also boast some of the highest figures for female entrepreneurs.

Looking at children and the birth rate, we’ve worked on projects for birthing centres, and one of the best known Czech obstetricians, Doctor Pařízek, says that if we want the highest possible number of children women should have their first child when they’re 25 years old. But that’s difficult: women are putting this off, they want to have lives of their own after graduating and so on. It’s a very complicated issue. Doctor Pařízek also says that for medical reasons it would be better if women had children when they’re 25, but they’re free to choose and we’re not going to tell them what they should do.

However, the Czech Republic does not have sufficiently flexible forms of employment, mainly shorter working hours but also other options such as flexible working hours, homeworking or job sharing. In the Czech Republic the number of people working shorter hours, sharing jobs or at least partly working from home is less than the European average. We’re working on this, looking for a solution, and thanks to our current prosperity the situation is changing for the better. A shortage of employees means companies have to offer more flexible forms of work rather than the standard eight-hour working day. What’s important is that this more or less enforced flexibility persists and opens up new job opportunities, especially for mothers.

However, we’re all facing a much harder problem: how to help families who want to have three or more children. To avoid the risks presented by demographic decline, the third child is key. I want to open a debate about this, in the Czech Republic and within the V4 too. Prime Minister Orbán and I have discussed this, and it’s a major issue. Individual countries face different aspects, but we share a common basis.

I know that not everyone wants to have a large family, but each year 5,000 families in the Czech Republic terminate pregnancies for third children. Some say it’s for economic reasons. It’s not that they don’t want another child, but they’re worried about losing their economic stability. A third child means a larger flat and a larger car, and that means more worries.

A larger flat and a larger car – these are enormous items in the family budget, and remember we’re talking about families who already have two small children. When a third child is born a Czech family’s income per family member becomes less than the old-age pension.

The right way to change this is therefore to use specific measures to support families so they can think about having a third child. Direct and active state support for larger families is essential. From a demographic perspective it’s essential to support the birth rate among economically active families. Current fertility levels in the Czech Republic are insufficient even for the simple reproduction of the population, which requires 2.1 children per woman. In the coming years we can also expect a lower birth rate given that fewer people were born in the 1990s. That’s why we need families with more than two children. Today they only account for 15 % of families, which simply isn’t enough. We have to come up with a range of measures to overcome welfare cuts, but in my opinion we won’t make any progress without third children.

Over the long term the state cannot “bribe” people to have children, but nor can it place such a heavy burden on families that having a third child becomes a luxury. Our goal must therefore be targeted assistance for families who freely decide to have a third child. This assistance must primarily be financial. A good state also has to combat negative social phenomena that present a threat to the modern family, and promote those elements that support the institution of the family. I have in mind the high divorce rate, debt, various forms of addiction, deferring having children until people are older, and in the Czech Republic also expensive housing, which we need to resolve quickly.

We’ve already started working on many of these issues. We’ve supported the construction of rental flats, but there aren’t enough and it’s a slow process. We’ve adopted measures against gambling, we’ve reduced the use of harmful addictive substances, and since June 1 we’ve had a new act on debt relief. We’re one of the countries that have adopted measures to support family businesses. I think all entrepreneurs who set up their own businesses dream that one day their children will work for the family business. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to do this. I made the mistake of going into politics, but maybe I’ll succeed one day. I think family businesses are the cornerstone of our economy.

Reversing the negative demographic prognosis isn’t a task for a single government or a single generation, but for multiple generations. My personal wish is that the Czech Republic and the countries in our region, the V4 countries, are known not just as countries that are prosperous, safe and flourishing, but also as countries with a modern, sustainable and above all effective pro-family policy.

I wish you all a pleasant and constructive discussion, and thank you again for inviting me here.

Andrej Babiš, Prime Minister

print article   email   facebook   twitter

Photo Gallery