A New Birth Policy to Sustain Europe

Trade and Economics - July 1, 2024

In the near future, the European political scene will have to reckon with birth policies that often do not represent the true demands of citizens. Especially in the face of birth rate figures that are increasingly difficult to look at with hope.

The G7 media clash

Particularly in Italy, but with resonance through the major European and international newspapers as well, a case developed – completely media-driven and without any foundation – around the alleged imposition by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to remove the word ‘abortion’ from the final declaration of the G7 Summit. A case that received wide coverage in the mainstream media, but that – as also declared by Prime Minister Meloni – had no real basis in the negotiations on the text. In fact, Meloni herself made it very clear that there is no issue of curtailments of rights, but rather the reference in this type of document is not to individual issues, but to previous declarations, such as the Hiroshima declaration in this case. A text where the passage on the need to guarantee access to free and safe abortion was very clear. Also on that occasion, Prime Minister Meloni declared that she did not want in any way to change law 194 (on abortion), considering its application in all its parts to be necessary. A controversy, therefore, mounted on purpose, not reflected in the reality of the summit meetings. A feigned brawl that does, however, have the merit of making it clear how issues relating to the birth rate – and the policies that foster it – must have a place and a growing weight within the European debate, especially after the outcome of the last European elections. In this case, it is impossible not to take into account the demands that the citizens of the member states have brought to the attention of the European institutions with their votes.

Birth rate figures in Europe

It is the same data provided in March 2023 by Eurostat on the birth rate in Europe that has European chancelleries and EU institutions worried to no small degree. In 2021, in fact, the European average stood at 1.53 births per woman. This lead to a total of 4.09 million births in that year. Although this might seem to be an improvement compared to 2020, when only 4.07 million new babies were born, the overall trend since 2008 is still down (considering that 4.68 million babies were born in that year). The situation does not improve if we look at Italy, today with a birth rate at an all-time low. We are talking about 1.25 births per woman, a figure surpassed only by Spain, which stands at 1.19, and Malta at 1.13. The top places in Eurostat’s analysis are held by France, with 1.84 children born per woman, followed by the Czech Republic (1.83), Romania (1.81) and Ireland (1.78).

Birth rate policies to be implemented

The data, as well as the tenor of the debate, make it clear that Europe is facing a historical moment in which the population is growing less and less, while the average age of its inhabitants is rising year after year. This contingency of declining birth rates and ageing population has several repercussions on the European system. The first huge impact is on the labour market and on the welfare and pension system. It’s enough to think, again in terms of employment, about how many rural areas will be condemned to abandonment if this trend is not strongly reversed in the coming decades. Not to mention the role that a Europe without growth and with an ageing population will play on the global stage at the threshold of the great international challenges that await us.

It is for all these reasons that a Europe of young families is desirable, one that looks at the demographic challenge as the key to its future. We must begin to act, starting with public spending on the birth rate itself, which must be considered on a par with any other productive investment. Investments that should be increasingly stimulated also through the European budget, with funds linked to the family support policies that the various member states will implement. We must then aim to change the paradigm within the community, focusing more and more on a ‘baby-friendly’ culture, as well as on the creation of programmes (including funding lines) aimed at women in economically fragile conditions who wish to become pregnant. Finally, we cannot turn our backs on all those European citizens who, at an advanced age, need supportive policies. A series of measures that look towards a change of course on the issue of birth rate and ageing, so as to support a necessary turnaround.