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Democratic Empowerment and Transnational Threats Domestic Policy

Procreation over immigration: what’s behind Hungarian free fertility treatment

On July 2019 the Hungarian government has launched its Family Protection Action Plan (FPAP) to boost demographic growth in the country, but this incentivisation is far from being what they claim.

On February 2020 the Hungarian Government has taken control and nationalised several private fertility clinics in order to meet demands of the estimated 150.000 couples across the country who have fertility issues, providing them free IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) treatments [1]. Before this measure, IVF procedures were out or reach for many Hungarian due to their high costs, stated around 40.000USD to 60.000USD per birth. This is not a low-cost operation for the actual government, which is spending around 5% of GDP on the policies.

This measure takes place in the framework of a wider plan approved in February 2019, the so-called Family Protection Action Plan, a bold set of actions to help families with children and to tackle population decline. The plan who pairs financial incentives with the promotion of a pro-life culture, consists in measures such as:

– support young couples: each woman under 40 y.o. receives a loan of HUF 10 million (around 35.000USD) and after giving birth to three children, the loan does not have to be paid back.

– payment by the government of HUF one million of the parents’ mortgage after the birth of a second child, and HUF 4 million after the birth of a third child.

– insurance b the government of the construction of 21.000 nursery places over the next three years, reaching the required 70.000 by 2022.

– exemption to women giving birth to four children from the payment of personal income taxes, which is the biggest incentive for larger families.

Those measures are going to extend the existing CSOK “Családi Otthonteremtési Kedvezmény” (Family Allowance for Home Building), the loans programme provided under the family housing benefit.

Population Decline

According to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, those measures are tailored to increase the total fertility rate (TFR) in the country, attested at 1.48 (below -but not so much- the EU average attested at 1.65) to 2.1 by 2030 and therewith the Government foresee around 4000 new-borns by 2022. Population decline is a concern for the entire Central European region [2], and countries like Croatia and Poland are already attempting to boost their birth rates with similar measures [3]. “Europe has become the continent of empty crib” stated Minister of State for Family Affairs Katalin Novák, and if the trend will not be reversed, population in Hungary is estimated to lower from actual 9.7 million to 8 million by 2070.

What’s behind the plan?

Despite the demographic outlook, the IVF and family policies are not driven by the desire to secure Hungary’s future but rather by an anti-immigration rhetoric that pervades FIDESZ Government since its first attempt in 2010 when Orbán ran his campaign on preserving a purely Hungarian Hungary.

To stem the negative consequences brought by shrinking populations, such as labour shortages and economic decline, a country would need to supplement its workforce with refugees. Instead of addressing the population and workforce shortage by welcoming migrants, Orbán’s administration is filling the gaps with a new generation of purely Hungarians in order to preserve ethnic homogeneity supported by an expensive programme. The ethno-national motivations behind this policy are well-known as the great replacement theory, common among members of the European far-right, which suggests that unknown forces want to replace native Europeans with outsiders. Being stick to those beliefs, FIDESZ Government aims to create a culture that is more welcoming of national families. “Hungary is historically Christian”, Novák has said, “and the pro-family policies are meant to reflect that in establishing a strong identity which is now at stake”.

Is it the right approach?

Certainly, this generous Welfare program resonated strongly with the population, but it showcased that the Hungarian Government is using demographic policies as a communication tool to enhance and to cement its anti-immigration rhetoric. As a centralised planning tool, it represents the deepest level of  governmental intrusion into private lives.

First, the policy leaves out non-traditional families, such as single parents and non-heterosexual couples, in violation of reproductive rights [4]. Second, the measures leave behind poor people and minority ethnic groups. The program is basically targeted to boost the reproductive rate of the Hungarian middle class, the only one with the economic stability that guarantee access to those measures. In creating an ethnically homogeneous society without immigration, Hungary is forgetting to take the appropriate steps meant to tackle poverty.

Experiences has showed that propagating the traditional family model instead of a more progressive view focused on social and gender equality, can have a reverse effect on fertility. However, even best practices in family policy can only yield results in the long-term, as it is indicated by the French and Swedish examples [5]. Indeed according to the European Commission, a common characteristic among countries with stable or even increasing birth rates is a high degree of female labour force participation, as demonstrated in the Nordic countries where working parents  are supported through a combination of generous parental leaves widely available childcare services. Instead, Central and Eastern Europe generally focus on financial benefits.

By now, data has showed that demographic trends in 2019 have been anything but positive. According to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office [6] in 2019 the birth rate decreased by 1.6% compared to the previous year, and population as a whole dropped by 2.5%. But, it has been said before, the effects of those kind of actions can only be foreseen in the long run.


[1] The ‘Strategic’ Reason for Hungary’s Free Fertility Plan, Balkan Insight, available at: https://balkaninsight.com/2020/02/17/the-strategic-reason-for-hungarys-free-fertility-plan/

[2] Bye-Bye, Balkans: A Region in Critical Demographic Decline, Balkan Insight, available at: https://balkaninsight.com/2019/10/14/bye-bye-balkans-a-region-in-critical-demographic-decline/

[3] ‘Baby machines’: eastern Europe’s answer to depopulation, The Guardian, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/04/baby-bonuses-fit-the-nationalist-agenda-but-do-they-work

[4] Reproductive rights are human rights, UNFPA, OHCHR, DIHR, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/NHRIHandbook.pdf

[5] Fertility Indicators, Eurostat, available at: https://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/submitViewTableAction.do

[6] Hungarian Central Statistical Office, available at: http://www.ksh.hu/population-and-vital-events


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