Catholic group urges European Parliament to address ‘demographic winter,’ protect children

European elections People cast their ballot in a polling station on June 6, 2024, in The Hague, Netherlands. Voters in 27 European Union countries go to the polls over the next four days to elect members of the European Parliament. | Credit: Pierre Crom/Getty Images

The Federation of Catholic Family Associations (FAFCE) in Europe on June 5 announced its policy toolkit for the European Parliament to combat the “demographic winter,” invest in pro-family policies that promote work-family balance, and promote digital safety for children.   

As this weekend’s elections kick off across European Union (EU) member states from June 6–9, the policy toolkit “invites incoming parliamentarians to prioritize families in their policymaking for this new legislature,” according to the June 5 press release

The European Union is on the brink of a major population decline according to a 2023 publication by Eurostat, which highlights its decreasing birth rates and population shrinkage since 2020.  

The challenge of declining birth rates 

“These elections come as Europe faces a critical moment,” Vincenzo Bassi, president of FAFCE, told CNA. “The demographic winter threatens a long-term existential crisis for the continent, as without children we have no future.”

“Birth rates have plummeted and the pandemic of loneliness has spread across the continent,” Bassi noted in the press release.

One 2023 study by the European Commission highlights “uncertainty of the future” as a reason for the decreasing birth rates. But while the birth rate lags, the desire for kids does not, according to a 2014 Pew survey.

“We need our European institutions to dedicate resources and human capital to understanding its root causes as well as investing in a demographic spring for the continent,” he continued. 

“Without intergenerational solidarity, we can’t begin to meet the many challenges in front of us,” he noted. “This requires families and children to be prioritized, without whom there is no future.”

A call for supporting families

FAFCE called the family “the antidote to the culture of waste and unrestrained consumption” in the release, which calls for families to “be at the center of the ecological transition.”

“We exist in a wider ecology beyond ourselves as individuals. To protect this integral ecology, we need to emphasize the role of the family and the family networks — the two cannot be separated,” Bassi told CNA. “No sustainable development is possible without intergenerational balance and solidarity. In tackling overconsumption, poverty, and addiction, Europe must put the core of society first — the family.”

“The problem is not the children but consumerism,” Bassi explained. “There is no ecology without the person; no person without the family. Therefore, there is no ecology without the families and communities of families at the heart of the transition.”

Bassi also highlighted a need for work-family balance to promote family life, including Sunday as “a common day of rest,” as part of a “right to disconnect.”

“It is possible to have a Europe where we workers are productive and also are able to enjoy valuable family time,” Bassi said. “Mothers and fathers need a balance of work and family life, for the sake of their children, themselves, and wider society.”

“Intergenerational balance is a prerequisite for intergenerational solidarity,” he told CNA. “Work-family balance is also crucial, so that parents are supported in their joyful responsibility of caring for their children.”

Bassi also emphasized encouraging pregnant mothers in their careers and giving them “the possibility to put their creativity and entrepreneurship to practice as well as motherhood.” 

More in Europe

Protecting children from pornography

Another issue that Europe and the rest of the world faces is digital safety for children. As one 2023 study by the National Institute of Health describes, “Children are often exposed to psychological damage, abuse, and violence owing to a lack of internet monitoring.” 

FAFCE encouraged the development of policies to protect children in the digital world, expressing to candidates the need for a European Parliament campaign to show the risks of exposure of children to pornography. 

“It is Europe’s children that must be better protected too, particularly with the public health issue of pornography;” Bassi told CNA, “both with regards to the need to remove abusive material online but also to research the damage caused by widespread access and addiction to pornography, which is exacerbating an already alarming pandemic of loneliness.”

“Pornography exposure has been correlated with nonrelational or recreational sexual attitudes and behaviors in previous studies,” the 2023 study noted.

“We reiterate also that institutions have a duty to ensure that children are not consumers of harmful material online,” he continued. “Children’s exposure to po***graphy is already a form of online sexual abuse that our societies are tolerating.”

This story was updated on June 7, 2024, at 10:57 a.m. ET with additional quotes from FAFCE president Vincenzo Bassi.

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