Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán Unveils New Pro-Natalist National Policy
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recently announced a new pro-natalist policy to promote the country’s declining birth rate. The plan aims to provide financial incentives to Hungarian women in exchange for having more children. Pro-procreation policies have notoriously been implemented in various other countries, and have presented dubious outcomes. In efforts to shape the future prospects of Hungary, Orbán could be embarking on an endeavor that neglects to consider the real issues troubling the country, further deepening divides already present.
Today, Hungary has a population of roughly 9.7 million people. Moreover, the crude birth rate in the country falls below the general EU average at 9.7 per 1,000 residents versus 9.9 per 1,000 residents. Further, in 2017 the population exhibited an overall decline with only 94,600 live births recorded, but a larger 131,900 deaths squashing any growth. Population decrease over the last few years has averaged at around 30,000-40,000 people. Orbán’s policies, in theory, aim to target these declining trends, which are somewhat in line with overall lower birth rates across Europe. However, Orbán’s approach to the new pro-natalist plan suggests a deeper motivation aimed at continuing his precedent for anti-immigration policy and specifically keeping out Muslim migrants, a stance retained since the 2015 refugee crisis that confronted most of Europe.
In the state of the nation address on Sunday, Feb. 10, Orbán unveiled his seven-point “Family Protection Action Plan,” which includes a number of procreation incentives for young families in the country. Amongst the various measures, the most notable included lifetime income tax waivers for women raising four or more children, and 10 million forint (approximately $36,000) loans for women marrying under 40, with full debt forgiveness after their third child is born. Within the address, Orbán justified the new policies as Hungary’s approach to countering the European declines in fertility:
“There are fewer and fewer children born in Europe. For the West, the answer (to that challenge) is immigration. For every missing child there should be one coming in and then the numbers will be fine… Hungarian people think differently. We do not need numbers. We need Hungarian children… Migration for us is surrender.”
However, the track record of pro-natalist policy demonstrates that it can often have deleterious and unintended consequences. Moreover, these policies can serve more as cost burdens on the government without even producing the desired effects of notable population increases. In the case of Hungary, it seems that this approach will provide more bad than good. The policy fails to recognize and address the domestic issues currently driving over 600,000 Hungarians to migrate out of the country over the past decade. Further, the policy deepens existing divisions in the country and antagonizes opposition sentiments that have been borne from Orbán’s and his party Fidesz’s platform of illiberalism and institutional reform leading to democratic backsliding in the country. By targeting pro-natalist incentives, Orbán neglects consideration of the domestic circumstances arising in his country. The targeted effects of this family planning remain to be seen in Hungary.