The Trio Presidency and Poland call for a better balance between work and family life to meet the demographic challenge
On the 1st of April an informal meeting of Ministers for Demography and Family Policy Issues was held in Gödöllö, Hungary. Prior to this meeting, the European Federation of Catholic Family Associations (FAFCE) presented an appeal to the Hungarian EU Presidency calling for better reconciliation of family life and work in view of a Declaration by the Trio Presidency (Spain, Belgium and Hungary) and Poland on the Impacts of Reconciliation of Work and Family Life on Demographic Dynamics.
The Demography Report 2010, recently published by the European Commission and Eurostat shows that the EU fertility rate started increasing in 2003, reaching an average of 1.6 in 2008 but still remaining below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. However, as a Eurobarometer study points out, Europeans would prefer to have 2.3 children (in EU 25). There is therefore a gap between ‘fertility intentions’ and the actual number of children; there is what might be called an ‘absent child’. In the meantime, life expectancy keeps increasing and Europe is facing a ‘demographic winter’. The current situation presents great challenges for the EU and its Member States, namely with regard to the sustainability of the European Social Model as there will be less people in the active work force and more pensioners.
Having identified the demographic issue as one of the major challenges in the EU today, the Hungarian EU Presidency organised an awareness week on demography and family policy issues in Budapest from 28th March to 3rd April 2011, « Europe for Families - Families for Europe ». The opening event was a conference on the Impact of Reconciliation of Work and Family Life on Demographic Dynamics, bringing together EU Member States, European Institutions, experts and NGOs.
Family policy falls within the national competency of EU Member States; this was underlined in an address presented to the Hungarian Minister of State for Social, Family and Youth Affairs, Miklós Soltész, by the FAFCE, a European NGO representing families from 16 European countries and promoting the family and its interests at the European level. FAFCE recalled that in the area of family policy the principle of subsidiarity should be emphasised as each nation has its own history and culture that will influence the way families make choices and wish to live in a given country. Family policy aims at providing the conditions necessary for the family to fulfil its role on behalf of its members and in society of which it is the fundamental unit. Furthermore, FAFCE also pointed out that proximity is a key factor in supporting and helping families through policy making.
Nevertheless, the EU itself has competencies permitting it to intervene in areas close to family policy, such as working conditions and working time allocation. The Europe 2020 Strategy aims at smart, sustainable and inclusive growth; and amongst its targets is a 75% employment rate for women and men aged 20-64.This objective has a direct impact on the reconciliation of work and family life.
The Declaration of the Trio Presidency and Poland brings up several points that could be improved in order to provide better conditions for family life such as flexible work, adapting schedules and working hours in the public sector and encouraging the private sector to do the same. It also states that “having a professional career and raising children should be compatible”. These are necessary steps for a better balance between family life and work, namely in the area of leave arrangements for mothers and fathers at the birth of their child and throughout the period of bringing up their children. Nevertheless, one could consider these points from another perspective, namely that of the family, by the means of ‘family mainstreaming’.
‘Family first’ is a key concept that can guide policy makers in balancing family life and work. Family life should be the starting point when designing working conditions rather than having working conditions dictating the choice to found a family. Strain and stress related to working conditions and working time allocation have a negative impact on the stability of marriage and family. Families need financial resources, adequate services and time. Freedom of choice is necessary for thriving and sustainable families that constitute the wealth and the future of Europe; not only from an economic point of view but also in terms of transmission of the core values that are at the foundation of Europe: solidarity, unity and peace. The family also provides a space for intergenerational solidarity and as such contributes to the social network of help and assistance. Putting the family first by applying ‘family mainstreaming’ is crucial if Europe wants to face the future with confidence.
Secretary General of FAFCE