Shift Towards a Family-Friendly Europe international conference - detailed report
Nowadays we often meet the question of what our family-friendly Europe should be like. Hungarian family policy measures are recognized and exemplary on a global scale, but we are still at the beginning of a family-friendly society and a family friendly Europe. The International Conference entitled Shift Towards a Family-Friendly Europe, organised by the Maria Kopp Institute for Demography and Families (KINCS) and the Three Princes, Three Princesses Movement aimed at making family-friendly initiatives, good practices of Europe more popular, to invite speakers to report on their experiences and on the exemplary practices of their countries, organizations and their businesses. The conference was supported by the Ministry of State for Family and Youth Affairs of the Hungarian Ministry of Human Capacities.
The professional program of the event was enhanced by the introduction of NGOs active in the field of family life in the Hall of the Castle Garden Bazaar. The participants could see a thematic contemporary exhibition entitled Ma Donna, which was a reflection of family-friendliness in fine arts, preliminary to Mothers Day.
Katalin Novák, Minister of State for Family and Youth at the Ministry of Human Resources in the opening speech of the two-day meeting gave the greetings of Minister Dr. Miklós Kásler. Hungary believes that it is possible to grow on the basis of its own strength and become a rejuvenating nation. She has emphasized that it was an increasing problem that society is ageing and young people are not having enough children or not having as much as they wish to have. Hungary has been trying to respond to this problem with family support and family-friendly approaches in all areas of governance since 2010, as it believes that it is possible to gain strength and prosper from own power, the Minister of State has highlighted. Hungarian family policy is about being free to decide whether to have a family, if so, when to have one, how many children to have, whether to choose a full-time motherhood or paternity or to return to their workplace. Referring to migration, she said that Europe is facing a crossroads. For the demographic problems, Western Europe is looking for a solution providing only short-term success, along with catastrophic consequences on the long-term. On the contrary, Hungary is thinking in the long term, choosing the harder route, but as a result, Europe can be an economically strong continent that becomes younger.
Kazimierz Kuberski, Deputy Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy of Poland, began his lecture by mentioning that his country's government regards as a primary objective to improve the demographic situation. He highlighted the importance of helping families in this process. The Polish politician also believed that most of the families living with them were planning a lot of children, but often when planning or having the first child, they encounter costs that discourage them from having further children. This is why the Polish Cabinet is trying to encourage family formation in many ways, and has therefore introduced regular financial support for all children, and is seeking to reduce poverty and provide many benefits to parents with three or more children.
Radka Maxová, a member of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament, referring to surveys in her country, said that the main factor in family formation is living standards and material opportunities. The politician described it as a characteristic that women in their society have their first child at such late age that they often do not have time to give birth to more children. She has stressed that the Czech government offers family support opportunities for all social strata and age group. As an example, Radka Maxová mentioned the new state-sponsored loan program to provide young people with access to housing.
Dr. Attila Beneda, Deputy Minister of State for Family Policy, referring to the recent research by Századvég, emphasized that the preservation of Christian values and roots is almost twice as important among the V4 countries as for inhabitants of Western European countries. In his opinion, cooperation between Visegrád countries should be strengthened. In particular, he presented the importance of Christian roots and traditions. Speaking of the Hungarian model, he emphasized that Hungary spends 4.8% of its GPD on family support, which is unique throughout Europe. He has listed several family-friendly measures that have been introduced since 2010, including the CSOK program, the family tax allowance or the nursery development program. As the closing of its lecture, he also gave details of the Family Protection Action Plan.
Afterwards, a review of international initiatives for families have followed.
First we got to know the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe. Its President, Antoine Renard presented some of the most prominent projects of the association, the One of us (not to use embryos for research purposes), or the Mom, Dad and Kids (the family being a union of father, mother and child). He then outlined the points of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe's Manifesto for the EP elections, which emphasize, among other things, the protection of family and marriage, the complementarity of women and men and the protection of the fetus.
Ignacio Socias, Director of Communication and International Relations of the International Federation for Family Development, presented the work of their alliance. They work together with about 8,000 volunteers. They are convinced that the future of mankind depends on their work. He thinks things are changing in the world step by step. They want results that are evidence-based. Beyond the support of families, they are also committed to raising children. They offer training for various age groups and organize family policy events in many countries around the world.
Among international initiatives, Raul Sanchez, Secretary General of the European Large Families Confederation, emphasized the importance of large families, saying: as the demographic winter approaches, large families constitute the spring. Their organization represents more than 50 million European citizens, constituting of nearly 9 million large families. They operate in 22 European countries. Their goal is to look at the large family as a value, and it is felt that large families have gained recognition in recent years. They have two interesting projects in Europe: the European Large Family Card, which offers discounts to large families in various programs, travel, etc. The other project is the European Network of Family-Friendly Municipalities.
Following the international examples, national initiatives were presented. First, Tünde Fűrész, President of the Maria Kopp Institute for Demography and Families (KINCS) presented the Institute's professional activities. She has mentioned the Institute's conference series entitled In the Service of Families and also outlined some of the results of the Institute's research. She has stressed that the data were encouraging. The primary task of governmental family policy is to help overcome the obstacles in order to the children wished for may be born. In building a family-friendly country, the government sees families as a resource. It guarantees being free to decide, one of the important pillars of which is the reconciliation of work and family life. In order to be truly family-friendly, it is necessary to unite, she has emphasized.
Joanna Krupska, President of the Trzy Plus, association for large families in Poland, reported on the work of their 12-year-old alliance. She said that they have collaborated with family-friendly municipalities, with organising large family meetings every year in different Polish cities. She has presented the Polish large family card, which has been available as a mobile application since 2018, and has nearly 800,000 holders. She closed her thoughts by saying that there are still many things to do, it is important to change the perception of families within society.
Stéphane Buffetaut, Member of the European Economic and Social Committee and Member of the governing body of the Thomas More Institute, pointed out in his speech in particular that the measures taken by the Hungarian government are interesting and intelligent, because they are linked to concrete life situations and respond to emerging problems.
The professional program continued with panel discussions, in which first family-friendly municipalities presented their daily activities and good practices for families.
Topic of the discussion: Best practices of local governments, moderated by Katalin Kardosné Gyurkó, President of the Hungarian Association of Large Families.
Elisabeth Potzinger, Member of the City Council of Graz, said that the city's population is growing yearly by 5,000 people, and the municipality is in good cooperation with the Catholic Church. With their activities, they strengthen cross-generational assistance (more than one hundred grandmothers and several grandfathers help families with small children).
Luciano Malfer, Public Manager on Family Friendly Policies at the Trentino Family Agency, said that the family is a great resource for society, and the family is not a problem but a solution for a well-functioning municipality.
József Michl, Mayor of Tata, sees it as easy to be a mayor today in Hungary, as the government provides a great amount of support. He aims to make Tata residents feel their city as their own. To confirm this, pupil have weekly a class about Tata, and they are planning to open an application for submitting family trees.
Leonids Mucenieks, Chairman of the Union of Latvian Large Families Associations, said that every year in Latvia, a family-friendly application is being launched, providing free public transport, free admission, and valuable prizes for participants.
Moderator of the Family-Friendly Science Panel Discussion was Ágnes Engler, Head of the Educational Research Center of Maria Kopp Institute for Demography and Families (KINCS) in Debrecen, Assistant Professor at the University of Debrecen and Vice President of the Three Princes, Three Princesses Movement.
Silvia Matusova and Marian Kovacs, professors at the University of Bratislava, said that their instructors and students could bring their children with them to university, which is not an obstacle in class or in exams. Their instructors can work from home, they do not have to be in the institution during the preparation and research period. Special financial support goes to fathers. Individual curricula are provided on request.
Maria Szymanska of the Jesuit University in Krakow, said: not only do they have young students, they have a good number of those aged fifty. Also pregnant women and mothers wih small children attend their courses, they are open to the individual curriculum, with the aim of finding a common solution with their students. They pay special attention to students, they never hold classes on Sunday, nor do they work. Students turn to them with their problems. She has mentioned the Children's University and the Citizenship University as a good practice.
Tymoteus Zych, Member of the Board of Directors of Ordo Iuris, said that parenthood should not be seen by universities as an obstacle. "You must not have a child before a PhD degree" - such statements have to be eliminated within the university. It is important to stay free to decide and be flexibile. Instead of a nursery, they think a playhouse would be more useful, where they could leave the toddler for a few hours.
Hajnalka Kamuti, Master Teacher at the Óbuda University, said that if a young employee enters them, they strive to achieve work-life balance. Many trainings help workers: stress management, family life, reintegration of returning mothers, legal assistance, nursery, kindergarten, family days. Their plans include setting up a family-friendly higher education award.
The first day of the professional conference ended with an unusual presentation. A special civil initiative, the Ringató session (a unique musical education program in Hungary), has been a singing and gave a playful experience for young children, their parents and the audience. The presentation was led by Viktória Gáll, the daughter of the founder, Ilona Gróh.
On the second day of the conference, we have remembered Professor Maria Kopp, followed by professional lectures and various panel discussions.
Firstly, Ferenc Túry, Professor, Deputy Director of the Institute of Behavioral Sciences at the Semmelweis University, Member of the Hungarostudy working group, former associate of professor Maria Kopp praised the wide-ranging and large-scale scientific work of the professor.
As part of this, he addressed her publications, research areas and major stages of her career.
András Székely, Coordinator of the Population Roundtable, Head of Analysis of the Maria Kopp Institute for Demography and Families, also remembered Professor Maria Kopp, as her former close colleague. He has summarized the civil work of Maria Kopp, emphasizing her merits in creating the Roundtable. Finally, he described the activities of the 3K3K movement, highlighting the role of familiarizism, the idea of the wandering cradle and the baby flag. He said that in January 2014, a five-party statement was issued, according to which all parliamentary party supported family-friendly policies in their governance.
Professor Petra Aczél, Head of the Institute of Behavioural Science and Communication Theory at the Corvinus University of Budapest, Senior Advisor of the Maria Kopp Institute for Demography and Families (KINCS) gave a presentation entitled "Comprehensive Family-Friendly Approach". In a shared personal story, together with her students, they discussed a list of 40 decisive women to be invited to their course. One of the students assumed that, in her opinion, they misunderstood the concept of success, she suggested inviting her grandmother, who had 5 children and 14 grandchildren. She has then defined the concept of the family by citing the thoughts of János Pilinszky and B. Almond. She has emphasized that family friendliness is not a social strategy, but a strategy for the future. It is based on the commitment of man and woman towards each other and to their children. She said that family-friendly policies should be seen as forward-looking measures that are no longer soft, but fundamentally defining, so-called hard factors.
The topic of the next panel discussion of the program was Family-Friendly Values in the Media. Moderator of the conversation was Áron Kuthi, PR official of the Three Princes, Three Princesses Movement. Participants agreed that the media monopolized our family and transformed our family life.
Martin Kugler, founder of the parkatt.hu dating site, considered it important that family journalists write about their own lives. Referring to Radka Maxová's presentation, he said that today in Europe, 80% of children under the age of 3 live with their natural families, although the press does not convey this picture. Unfortunately, too often Christian families are withdrawing from social media, which is even the result of spending much less time on social media compared to single young people. The family's institution is the best one to bring back the common fund.
According to Filipe D' Avillez, a Portuguese journalist, difficult family cases are taking place in the spotlight of the media, e.g. child placement cases. As a father of 6 children, responding to the motto of Mária Kopp "Change diapers, live longer", he hopes that he will live for 150 years.
Andrea Gagliaducci, a Vatican analyst at the Catholic News Agency, said that there is no communication of family issues in Catholic church circles, and there is no appropriate network for this either. Unfortunately, we have to accept that some topics do not reach the stimulus threshold, so they won't get into the media. A cultural turn requires a generation of families who can do it.
Andreas Thonhauser, Director of External Relations at ADF, emphasized the protection of families and marriage. Surprisingly, nowadays we still see functional families, even if we don't like this phenomenon, this is now a typical trend. He believes that the family would be very marketable, but the main question is who first communicates on a topic. It is important to provide good arguments about good topics in good time.
The topic of the next panel discussion were the family-friendly best practices of companies operating in Hungary. The moderator of the Family-Friendly Virtue panel was Enikő Ujvári, leader of the Work-Life Program, Vice President of the Three Princes, Three Princesses Movement.
According to Judit Zolnay, CEO of MetLife, family-friendly programs and initiatives at work are important because retaining workforce is a challenge today. Family friendliness has now become a competitive factor. In order to be able to help an employee in family-friendliness, an idea, a plan is definitely needed.
Zoltán Szabó, Managing Director of British Telecommunications mentioned concrete initiatives as "Show me, what you are working" or "Bring your child to work". He is convinced that it is financially more favourable to be family-friendly than to recruit and induce a new employee.
Éva Marton, the founder of Working Parents at GE, highlighted the importance of Employer Branding.
According to Bálint Révész, Head of HR Department at K&H, success is really great if it's common.
In the focus of the Family-Friendly Companies panel discussion was work-life balance, in the framework of which international best practices were presented. Moderator of the conversation was Áron Kuthi, PR official of the Three Princes, Three Princesses Movement.
Koen Magherman, Strategic Director of K&H Bank, highlighted the popularity of part-time work or access to specific jobs. In Hungary, within the financial sector they are proud to have the lowest fluctuation index. If you need to hire fewer people and have enthusiastic employees, it will not only bring you financial benefits, but will also mean a healthier and happier organization - he added.
According to Zoltán Vadkerti, co-founder of Work Life HUB, successful family policies require a long-term investment.
Alzbeta Gracova, HR Director of Slovnaft (MOL Group), believes that the Generation X has realized that it needs not only work but also family and private life. This can mean part-time work, flexible working or teleworking. The popular home office in Hungary is quite uncommon for Slovak employees.
The topic of the last panel discussion of the conference was the activities of the NGOs that were the driving force behind family friendliness. In Hungary, civil society organizations are very active, and their strategic partnership is essential for the success of Hungarian family policy. The section was moderated by Kinga Joó, Senior International Coordinator at the Maria Kopp Institute for Demography and Families (KINCS), Vice President of the National Association of Large Families, and a Member of the European Economic and Social Committee, who stated that it is important to represent every family. As a common feature, she has highlighted that the panel participants raise a total of 24 children, all of whom wish to serve families as professionals or volunteers.
Madeleine Wallin, Secretary General of the European Federation of Parents and Carers at Home, drew attention to the need to protect paternity because it is vulnerable. A single parent needs special protection.
Virginie Durin, Vice President of Familles de France, said they are achieving firm results by working with the government.
Regina Maroncelli, President of the European Large Families Confederation, recalled that when their organization was established, the headwind was great. Since then, many larger and smaller measures have been implemented: car-free walking areas, nursing rooms, etc. The Italian Constitution specifically mentions large families. She considers it essential that information from families can reach decision-makers.
Aleksandra Januszewicz, Social Policy Officer at Tryz Plus, emphasized that, as a result of the ever-changing family, each family faces different problems.
Anna Nagy, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Single Parent Families' Foundation, said that today there are 300,000 single-parent families in Hungary raising nearly 500,000 children. In the life of a single-parent family, besides beauty, there are a lot of difficulties: the task of two parents must be provided as one, but they also get all the help from the state for their success.
At the closing of the conference, Ágnes Engler and Dr. Balázs Molnár summarized the two-day conference. Based on thought-provoking conversations, it seemed that the diagnosis outlined at the beginning of the conference was true: Europe needs a shift. Family friendliness is a future-oriented issue of competitiveness that can only be achieved through joint collaboration. In order for Europe to work in a family-friendly way, there is a need for cooperation, and family friendliness must be present in every area of life. It has also turned out that for many, Hungarian family-friendly initiatives are exemplary, and in many cases they regard our brave family-friendly approach as a compass.