Thursday, May 08, 2008

Family Policy in the EU


From CFNews: On Wednesday morning, in the European Parliament, the Institute for Family Policy (IPF) presented its Report on 'The Evolution of the Family in Europe 2008' (the full report with all charts and tables can be consulted here.

This study has been carried out by a multi-disciplinary team of experts in different fields such as demography, psychology, sociology, and successful reconciliation of work and family life, and coordinated by Lola Velarde, President of the IPF European Network.

Although there is growing concern of the European Union by the family and its problems, as evidenced by the recent adopted documents such as the Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee about 'The family and the demographic evolution', and the Communication of the European Commision: 'The demographic future of Europe: from challenge to opportunity', it is also true that this action is still clearly inadequate and that as a result of this, family problems have continued to get worse, says Lola Velarde.

Indeed, indicators of population, birth, marriage, family breakdowns and households have got worse in these 27 years. Data from the report on 'Evolution of the Family in Europe 2008' are eloquents and conclusives. Europe is undergoing a demographic winter and now, Europe is an elderly continent -old people over 65 exceed by more than 6 million young people under 14 years. Besides, the problem of birth has become critical as fewer children are born
(almost one million fewer births than in 1980) and there are one million abortions, that makes it -with cance r-the leading cause of mortality in Europe. Finally, there is a collapse of marriages, with fewer marriages and more marital breakdowns-1 million divorces a year- andwith empty households (2 out of 3 European households have no children). '

Some of the Report's conclusions are as follows:

I. European Demographic Winter

1. Slow growth of the European population (EU27)is basically due to immigration, that is 84% of EU27 population growth between 2000-2007.

Between 2000 and 2007, of the 14.2 million increase in population, 12 million (84% of this increase) was the result of immigration. and which has continued in 2007, with an increase of 80%. The immigrant population is already over 27 million, representing 5.5% of the population of Europe

Although Germany (7.2 million) and Spain (4.6 million) are the EU countries with the highest number of immigrants, and these two countries alone represent 42% of the total, it is Spain the country which has grown the most over the last 10 years with a growth of 701%, going from barely 500,000 in 1996 to over 4.6 million in 2006

2. Europe is an elderly continent: one out of every five inhabitants is over 65 and, besides, there are 6 million more over-65s than under-14s.

There are already 6 million more elderly individuals than young people. Whilst in 1980 there were 36 million more children than elderly individuals, by 2007 there were 6 million (5,966,400) more over-65s than under-14s.

One out of every five inhabitants is over 65. The under-14 population in the EU25 has decreased from 94 million in 1980 to only 74 million in 2007, which represents a decrease of 20 million young people. By contrast, the over-65 population in the EU25 has increased from 57 million in 1980 to 80 million in 2007, which represents an increase of almost 23 million elderly people.

Bulgaria and Germany are the EU27 countries with the fewest young people. In these countries, only 1 out of every 8 inhabitants is under 14.Besides, Italy and Germany are the countries with the largest elderly populations, significantly higher than the European mean figure. One out of every 5 inhabitants is over 65.

II. Critical Birthrate

3. There are almost a million fewer babies born annually than in 1980. In 2007, almost one million (920,089) fewer babies were born in the EU27 than in 1982, which represents a decrease of 15%. Over this period (1982-2007) the population has increased by almost 37 million.

With birth rate in some countries at a critical level. Slovakia (1.24), Poland (1.27), Romania (1.31) and Germany (1.32), etc. barely reach a birth rate of 1.3.

4. And with 1.200.000 abortions a year, one abortion each 27 seconds...In Europe (EU-27) there is one abortion every 27 seconds, equal to almost one million two hundred thousand abortions annually (1,167,775) (2006), which means that abortion is the main cause of death in Europe. Spain is the country with the highest increase in number of abortions over the last 10 years (1996-2006) with an increase of 99%.

One of every five pregnancies (18.5%) is ended by abortion.Of the 6,390,014 pregnancies in 2006 in the EU27, 1,167,683 were ended by abortion, equal to 18.5% of pregnancies.

Each year in Europe, abortion figures are the equivalent of the populations of Luxembourg and Malta combined, or the entire population of Slovenia or Cyprus.

France (206,311), United Kingdom (194,353), Romania (150,246), Italy (129,272), Germany (119,710) and Spain (101,592) are the EU27 countries with the highest abortion rates, and accounted for 77% of all abortions.

Spain is the country with the highest increase in number of abortions over the last 10 years (1996-2006) with an increase of 99%.

5. People start families later in life, at almost 30 years (EU25).

Average age at maternity has increased by 2.6 years. Age at maternity has increased by 2.6 years in the EU25 in recent years, going from 27.1 in 1980 to almost 30 (29.7) in 2006. Spanish women (30.88 years old) are, along with Italian women (30.8) and Dutch women (30.58), the EU27 females who have their first child latest.

III. Dramatic fall in marriage rate in Europe

6. Dramatic fall in marriage rate in Europe. 737,752 fewer marriages than in 1980. Over 26 years (1980-2006), the number of marriages in the EU27 has decreased by more than 737,000, equivalent to 23.9%. In spite of a population increase of 36 million (1980-2006). The marriage rate has dropped from 6.75 in 1980 to 4.85 in 2006. In countries such as Bulgaria, Slovenia or Hungary, the fall in marriage rate has been around 50%, i.e. For every 2 marriages that took place in 1980, now there is only 1.

7. People are starting families later. Women at an average age of around 29, men over 31. In the space of barely 25 years, Europeans have delayed by more than 5 years the age at which they start a family (5.5 years for women and 5.2 years for men), men being over 31 and women approaching 29.

8. One out of every 3 children (33.9 %) is born outside marriage in the EU27. This affects more than 1.7 million children each year. Of the 5,209,942 births in the EU27 in 2006, 1,766,733 were born to unmarried parents. This represents 33.9% of births. Estonia (58.24%), Sweden (55.47%), Bulgaria (50.79%) and France (50.49%) are the countries where there are more births outside marriage than within it.

France, with 419,192 births, is the country with the highest number of births outside marriage, followed by the United Kingdom with 326,792. These two countries alone account for 42% of the total.

9. There are over one million divorces and 365,000 more divorces than in 1980. Marital breakdown has increased by 369,365 in 26 years (1980-2006), an increase of 55%. Spain, with an increase of 290%, is the EU country with the highest increase in marital breakdown over the last 10 years (1996-2006).

Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain are the EU27 countries with the highest rate of marital breakdown. For every three marriages entered into, two end in divorce. Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Spain are the EU27 countries with the highestnumber of divorces. The number of divorces in these countries is over 605,000 and accountfor 58% of the total.

Over 10.1 million marital breakdowns in 10 years (1996-2006) in the EU27 that have affected over 15 million children.

10. Marriages last an average of 13 years before breaking down. Italy, 16.8 years, is the EU-27 country where marriages last longest before breaking down. It is followed by Spain (13.9 years) and Slovenia (13.7 years). By contrast, Austria with 10.6 years is the EU-27 country where marriage lasts the least before breaking down.

IV. Empty households

11. The size of European households is decreasing. Only 2.4 members per household. In barely 25 years (1980-2005), the average size of households has decreased by 'losing' 1.5 persons. It has gone from almost 3 persons (2.82) to 2.4 members per household. Malta (3.2), Cyprus (3.1), Romania (2.9) and Spain (2.9) are the countries with the highest number of members per household. By contrast, Germany (2.1), Denmark (2.1), Finland
(2.1), and Sweden (2.2) are the countries with the lowest number of members perhousehold.

12. European households are becoming more solitary. 1 out of every 4 households in Europe has a single dweller…27.7% of European households have only 1 person. And now more than 54 million Europeans live alone.

V. Insufficient family policies

13. Although there is growing awareness of the problems faced by families in the European Union, there is no organisation which is in charge of Family Policy, nor does it have a Family Observatory, or a Green Paper on the Family. Although there are 5 Vice-presidencies and 21 Committees within the European Commission, none of them covers the Family, being dealt with by the Committee on Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.

The Observatory on Family Policies was created in 1989 and closed in 2004, when it was replaced by the Observatory on Demography and the Social Situation. Besides, of the 95 Green Papers written since 1984, none has been on the Family.

14. European countries start to have family organizations at first level....While European countries like Germany, Fance, Ireland, Norway, Hungary, Luxemburg, Slovenia, Belgium, Slovaquia, etc, have Ministeries of Family...

15. But with little budget: Of every 13 euros Europe sets aside for Social Expenditure, only 1 euro is set aside for the Family …Europe sets aside, on average, on Social Expenditure is 28% of GDP, with significant differences between countries: Sweden sets aside 32% of GDP, (more than two and a half times Estonia and Latvia, which set aside only around 12.5% of GDP for Social Expenditure).

Since 1996, the average set aside by Europe for the Family has remained static at 2.2%, which represents only 7.7% of Social Expenditure.

16. With significant differences between countries..Whilst some countries target families as a priority for assistance, providing levels far higher than the European average.

Denmark, Luxembourg, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Austria set aside above 3% of GDP for the Family, 40% more than the European average (2.1% of GDP). Denmark (3.8% GDP) and Luxembourg (3.6% GDP) are the EU27 countries that offer most assistance to families Other countries do not prioritise families for assistance. Poland, Malta, Spain, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Italy, and Portugal set aside less than 1.2% of GDP for the Family, which is far below the European average (2.1% of GDP).

17. Leading to significant differences for families in each country...A family with two children, without income-related restrictions, would receive 471€/month in Luxembourg, in Germany 308€/month, in Ireland 300€/month and in Belgium 274€/month etc. By contrast, the same family in Poland would receive 32 €/month (and with strict incomerelated restrictions), 25 €/month in Latvia and 23 €/month in Bulgaria (and with strict incomerelated

In 2007, countries such as Poland, Latvia and Lithuania made efforts to increase benefits per child by more than 25%, whilst the average increase considered was 2.6% for 1st and 2nd child.

18. There is a clear correlation between direct assistance to families and the number of children: Countries which offer higher family benefit levels have higher birth rates France, Ireland and Luxembourg give significant child benefits and have a high number of chilfren. By contrast, Spain, Poland and Italy have few children and very low levels of child benefits.

VI. IPF proposals

What is required is the instigation in Europe of the development of 'family-oriented' government policies and the implementation of genuine, effective, comprehensive and universal Family Policies.

Built around the following axis:

o Giving the Family status as a policy priority

o Making the 'Family-oriented' approach an integral part of all measures put in place bythe European Union

o Recognise and promote family rights in all areas, particularly the priority of child care and education.

o Promoting convergence between national family policies to avoid differences between countries

o Pushing for equality of opportunity for all European families, to avoid discrimination based on number of children, income levels, income distribution, etc.

And doing so by means of…

o Appropriate bodies

o Budgetary provision

o Plans, measures and legislation

Following action plans that…

o Promote the Family as an institution,

o Encourage a universal concept of the Family and also a culture and environment that allows the Family to manage its day-to-day existence,

o Help parents to have the children they want,

o Include, in a genuinely constructive and humane fashion, the different areas of professional, family and personal development,

o Provide assistance during cases of family crisis,

o Recognise the fundamental right of parents to educate their children,

o Promote the active participation of parents and family associations

o And, through specific measures, take account of families with particular needs.

I. Which promote the Family as an institution…

1. By creating the Commission for the Family to promote the Family as a policy priority in European Union countries, and to ensure that all European legislation considers the Family as a social base with rights and roles that must be respected and promoted.

2. By urging EU member states to set up a Ministry for the Family with sufficient organisational and budgetary capacity to develop Family promotion and protection measures in Europe.

3. By drafting a Green Paper on the Family in Europe which analyses the problems faced by the Family along with their causes and consequence, and sets out solutions and alternatives

4. By promoting a European Agreement on the Family between political parties, social agents and family institutions.

II. Which promotes a Family-oriented culture, disseminating a universal concept of the Family and encouraging an environment which favours it...

5. By re-establishing the Family Policy Observatory, with social involvement, to analyse the situation and development of the Family in Europe and to advise on, manage and oversee policy measures affecting it, and to ensure that public policy measures are drawn up to take account of the Family.

6. By running campaigns to increase awareness within society and to promote an environment and culture that favours the Family, placing value on childhood and maternity.

7. By incorporating into European Directives on communication media the criteria of respect for and promotion of the Family, in addition to the creation of Independent Audiovisual Councils one of whose objectives is the protection of minors and the Family.

III. Which assist families in the management of their day-to-day existence, helping parents to have the children they want...

8. By promoting the establishment of gradual convergence between family protection measures in different European countries, so that:

o 2.5% GDP: In 5 years time, all countries are setting aside a minimum of 2.5% of GDP for social spending on the family.

o Making assistance universal: In 5 years time, all countries are promoting universal family assistance practices or at least, as the first step towards achieving this, are establishing limits (per capita) which include 90% of families.

o 125€/month: Co-financing benefits per dependent child, providing benefits are universal, contributing 30% of the amount corresponding to the State in question, up to a maximum of 125€/month.

o Making benefits tax-exempt: Countries establish tax convergence objectives for tax exemption on family benefits.

o Benefits linked to annual inflation rate: Countries put in place measures ensuring that family benefits increase in line with inflation.

IV. Which assist families in the management of their day-to-day existence, helping parents to have the children they want......

9. By urging governments to adopt a more equal distribution of benefits aimed at the Family - currently accounting for 8% of total social benefits - gradually increasing their amount.

10. By adopting measures of support for pregnancy and maternity

o Reducing by 50% the VAT payable on a series of essential infant products (baby hygiene items such as nappies, soap, moisturising creams, wet wipes, feeding products such as formula milk, containers and feeding bottles, cereal and food preparations and baby furniture items such as cots, chairs and prams, baby carriers, car seats etc.).

o Setting up Care Centres for Pregnant Women to help for all mothers, married or single, with their pregnancies, with particular attention for immigrant mothers.

11. By increasing tax convergence in Europe to make it Family-oriented

V. Which include, in a genuinely constructive and humane fashion, the different areas of professional, family and personal development…

12. In all European Union countries, promoting and encouraging maternity leave of 23 weeks with 100% salary, and paternity leave of 6 weeks with the same conditions as maternity leave.

13.Ensuring parents' right to choose.

o Promoting extension of benefits for fathers/mothers who request extended leave to look after their children.

o Enlarging the network of nurseries for the 0-3 age group.

14. By insisting on universal assistance for families caring for elderly relatives in their home

15.Promoting the adoption of rational working days by companies to allow professional and family life to be combined.

VI. That help overcome family crises...

16. By insisting on preventive measures to assist in cases of family crisis (following Council of Europe recommendations) to reduce instances of family breakdown in Europe.

o Updating and modernisation of Council of Europe recommendations (1974-1980).

o Promoting Family Guidance Centres, both public and private.

o Urging EU countries to draw up a Law for Preventive Measures and Family Mediation.

o Carrying out studies, analyses and surveys to discover the causes of family breakdown and introducing measures whose aim is to reduce and/or alleviate their negative consequences.

VII. Which recognise the right of parents to educate their children...
17. By recognising Education as a Fundamental Family Right (not as a public service)

o Making the education costs met by families (text books, schools etc.) income taxdeductible.

o Increasing the number of parent representatives on School Councils.

o Promoting the right of parents to choose their children's education, promoting directives on the school-cheque, and assisting States that implement it (up to 25% of the cost).

VIII. And promoting the active involvement of families and family associations... creating Internet Portal 'InfoFamilias' with information on services for European families. [IPF]

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Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen