Giorgia Meloni

Speech at the Budapest Demographic Summit - ‘Family is the key to security’ session - Sept.14, 2023

Giorgia Meloni
September 13, 2023
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Good morning everyone,

I obviously have to thank Katalin Novák, who is a fighter too. She is a great mother and a very good and great politician too and she is a friend of mine, as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been a good friend of mine for many years. I also want to bring my due greetings to all the authorities, to President Radev, and to Vice President Mpango.

I think today we have an important opportunity to discuss a number of issues that Italy considers key not just for the national, but also for the European agenda: the family and the demographic challenge. These challenges are at the heart of the Italian Government’s action through specific measures, focusing on initiatives regarding families and children in all different areas. Later on, I will tell you more about them, but what I want to say to begin is that we are mainly working to bring about a significant cultural change. There is indeed no doubt that a serious demographic crisis is affecting Italy, but it is also affecting the whole of Europe and is now spreading across vast areas of the world, particularly the West in its entirety.

If we try and take an in-depth look into this crisis, we realise that it originated a long time ago and is rooted not only in the anti-cyclical phases of the economy, but – more dangerously – in the quicksand that is the myth of birth rate decline and a widespread cultural approach that is generally hostile to the family. Until a few decades ago, people had children even during wars or in situations of poverty.

Italy’s history is proof of this. After the Second World War, despite being reduced to ruins and finding itself in an extremely difficult situation, Italy experienced a phase of both major economic expansion and strong population growth. In 1964, more than a million children were born in Italy and there was a fertility rate of 2.7 children per woman.

Children represented not only regeneration of the family, but also an indispensable element of social well-being, for sons and daughters, by working, increased households’ ability to support themselves and they took care of their elderly relatives. If people are having fewer and fewer children today, with more developed nations often heading the fastest towards this downfall, then we cannot reduce this issue to a purely material fact: we have to look deeper into it and, from deep down, look for the necessary answers. In our view, demography is not just another of the many issues of our nations. It is the issue on which our nations’ future depends. I don’t think I am exaggerating in saying that, for we need the courage to say that demographers’ projections for the future are very worrying.

One of the reasons for this crisis is undoubtedly how the issue is addressed from a cultural point of view, from a media point of view. Let’s think about how much the social models we see in advertisements, in films and TV programmes and in the world of media in general have changed over the years: the typical image of a family with children has gradually faded, with communications geared towards single people being favoured instead, showing citizens-consumers in their individual dimension - detached from the communities they belong to, starting with the first of the communities which is the family. You know what, some years ago, I became, well, a bit more popular, for during a speech I said “I’m Giorgia, I’m a mother, I’m a woman, I’m Italian, I’m Christian, you won’t take it out from me”. Somebody put it to music, it was a way to attack me. It didn’t work; it became a success. Maybe they underestimated how those words would be greeted. What I wanted to say with those words is that we live in an era in which everything that defines us is under attack. Why? And why is it dangerous? It is dangerous for our identity – our national identity, our family identity, our religious identity – is also what makes us aware of our rights and able to defend those rights. Without that identity, we are only numbers, unconscious numbers, tools in the hands of those who want to use us. That is why I think a great battle for somebody who is defending humankind and the rights of people is also to defend families, is also to defend nations, is also to defend identity, is also to defend God and all the things that have built our civilisation.

They want to convince us that it’s not cool to talk about this subject, that doing so is actually almost a rearguard action, being carried out by people who don’t know how to keep up with the times. Well, they will never convince us about it. And it doesn’t really matter if today’s initiative will most likely not be talked about in terms of content, but rather with regard to what’s going on politically behind the scenes; for us, the important thing that is happening here today is that government and institutional representatives from different nations, different latitudes and different political orientations are discussing this issue, because they are simply responsible enough to understand that it is crucial. I am here because I am interested in talking about why Italians are no longer having the children they say they want in the polls; because I am interested in questioning why the whole of Europe is below the replacement rate - the famous two children per woman that would allow us to keep the population level constant. The experts have been talking about a slowdown for a long time now. In some areas, we are already in a phase of depopulation. However, unless the trend is reversed, the medium-term prognoses are critical. And, as I was saying, demographic prospects are inversely proportional to the level of well-being. To put it more simply, richer nations are where people are having less children. This is the reason why mobilising resources to support families and children is essential, and can deliver concrete results, as Hungary has perfectly demonstrated. Also Pope Francis made reference to this during his apostolic journey to Hungary in April this year. The example of Hungary tells us that things can change, if we want them to change. We need the willingness and we need the courage to do the right measures and substantial investments.

Thanks to the policies developed by the government over the last years, Hungary inverted the negative birth rate trend that had been plaguing the nation since the early 1980s. Today, the birth rate has increased, the number of marriages has increased, the overall employment rate has increased and – very importantly – the rate of female employment has increased. I want to underline it for I always objected to the idea that many put forward that boosting the birth rate would mean discouraging women from work; as if the two things were not compatible, as if women should still have to be doomed to sacrifice either their job or their motherhood. It is not true. What the Hungarian example tells us is precisely the opposite, it tells us that, by developing family-oriented policies, by combining a family-friendly cultural approach with concrete policies to support families with children and the work-family balance, especially for mothers, it is possible to give women back the freedom to be able to bring children into the world without having to give up their careers as a result, and to be able to have a career without having to give up bringing children into the world as a result. For that is what true freedom is: being able to choose, and being able to have a full life, for children are not a limit. I’m doing a very difficult job, not much time to put everything together but, you know what? I became stronger when my daughter was born, and every time that I see her, I know now better than I knew before, that even when I’m tired, even when I think “ok, I will give up, I can do no more, that’s not a life”, that I’m doing something that, if I’m able to do that, I’m doing it moreover for her. Children make women stronger also in the work they do, they are not a limit. So we want to guarantee this freedom and Hungary’s experience regarding families and the birth rate is therefore an important one, and I want to say it for Italy looks at it with interest and admiration for the results achieved. I have the honour of heading the Italian government, as you know, which is a strong, cohesive government that has been in office for less than a year and that is aiming to work together we hope for many years to come (which is something quite rare in Italy, it’s not like here where things are more stable). Our government has made the birth rate and the family a top priority.

We have done so because we want Italy to go back to having a future, to hoping for and believing in a tomorrow that is better than the uncertain present we are in. We have begun by including the term ‘birth rate’ in the name of a Ministry for the first time ever, and we have linked the subject of the birth rate with that of the family and equal opportunities. That choice was not about form, it was about substance. It is the choice to have the point of view of the family in all the Government’s policies. We are obviously only at the beginning, but we have already set a direction. We have increased the so-called ‘single allowance’ that is paid to families with children; increased parental leave; reformed the instruments against poverty by transforming them from welfare payments that were a disincentive to work into measures to support families and those who are genuinely fragile, focusing once again on children and the fight against child poverty. And, we have raised the threshold of tax-free fringe benefits for workers with children, we have refinanced summer recreational centres, helped young couples to buy a house, and equally important work is being done with regard to the work-family balance, but the most important is that we have put the criteria of the family, the criteria of the birth rate, the criteria of the work-family life balance at the heart of every measure that we are doing. However, – and I want to stress this again – overall, we want our actions to also and above all help to create a new cultural climate, because, you see, when birth rate decline is talked about, some still argue that the population decreasing is actually not a bad thing after all. In the past, there have been specific policies at international level to control the population and encourage the birth rate to fall. Now that we are clearly facing the opposite problem, focusing policies on this issue paradoxically still causes annoyance. This issue is often instrumentally set against the one of migration, which it is claimed can give us the contribution in terms of welfare that our national societies should apparently resign themselves to no longer being able to offer. I do not agree with this narrative; I think that great nations and great peoples must take responsibility for building their own future and the future of their own corner of the world. I think that a quota of legal migration, where this is necessary and can be fully integrated, can make a positive contribution to our economies, but I remain convinced that it would be more responsible for us to entrust European citizens with the solution to the European welfare system crisis – citizens who are instead accustomizing to the idea that decline is a destiny. Well, decline is not a destiny, decline is a choice and it is not the choice that we will do. After all, if you think about it, birth rate decline is merely another side of the incapacitating myth of degrowth. As if degrowth could somehow mean happiness - but no, in my opinion, degrowth can never mean happiness. Applied to demography, it means not only a problem regarding the sustainability of the welfare or health system, but also a lack of inventiveness, creativity, innovation. A lack of hope. A lack of future.

I want to thank Katalin Novák, for this summit – this working session - is dedicated to the family as a “key of security” which is a concept that many years ago could seem banal, and now is quite courageous. So, thank you, Kat. It looks like we need courage for, today, it seems like talking about the family takes something away from someone, instead of adding something to everyone, which is what I think. As if none of us, regardless of our life path and regardless of our origins, were born into a family network. I can be the first to say that, for, as maybe some here know, I do not come from a family with ‘ordinary’ dynamics, and yet I feel in every way a daughter of a family. In recent weeks, there have been some serious incidents in Italy, in a place called Caivano, near Naples – a so-called ‘free zone’ where, for a long time, the State seemed to have withdrawn, giving too much free rein over the years to organised crime. Our government has taken decisive action, for Caivano and for all the other places like that in Italy. One of the key pillars of this initiative is precisely to encourage families to take back the responsibilities that belong to them, with regard to education, raising their children, keeping checks on the content that technology exposes them to right from a very young age and making sure they attend school. Likewise, in these months of government, we have tried to promote the work ethic and educational freedom, which is a cornerstone of personal freedoms on the one hand and of parental responsibilities on the other, which a certain ideological approach instead sees as smoke and mirrors.

It is true that family is a “key of security”, with “key of security” not being meant, as a certain narrative would like to have us believe, as the severe and somewhat backward idea of a social-cultural superstructure that does not accept personal freedom, but rather as a ‘natural society’, as it is also defined in the Italian Constitution, in which tomorrow’s citizens are born and educated, in which everyone can receive education and training, discover their talents, develop their personalities inside a nest that guarantees security and protection, learn to love and to be loved, and learn what solidarity is. Today, after a prolonged ideological attack that has led to families receiving little help and support, the institution of the family appears to be in crisis, and we want to defend it, we want to revitalise it, as family does not limit anyone’s freedom but does increase everyone’s wealth.

We do not believe that the State can replace family, and where this has been attempted in the past – as happened in Eastern Europe under Soviet rule – the results serve as a warning for everyone not to repeat the experiment. In this regard, over the last few days I have been amazed to read about the re-emergence of historical controversy over the events of 1956, which on many occasions, together with Viktor and Katalin, we have recalled as the founding moment of Hungary’s constitution and democracy. The revolution of 1956 was not only a revolt against foreign rule, but also a revolt against those who were trying to destroy the very foundations of a people’s identity: family, religion, national belonging. They are pages of history that cannot be rewritten and no propaganda operation today can ever tear them up. And pages of history that we see again today in Ukraine and that we cannot accept.

In conclusion, my friends, there can be many different ways to put the family at the heart of development policies, and these are clearly influenced by national cultures, identities, customs and traditions. However, there are many experiences that have worked, that are important to share – such as the experience that we see here in Hungary.

I think, I do agree with President Radev, that Europe must take action in this direction, focusing on policies for the family and the birth rate and accompanying nation states towards greater coordination, with genuine respect for the principle of subsidiarity. In short, demonstrating to have fully understood the extent of the cultural, social and economic challenge we are facing. To use the words of Pope Francis when he was here in Hungary “a Europe centred on the human person and on its peoples, with effective policies for natality and the family (…), where different nations form a single family that protects the growth and uniqueness of each of its members”. This is our hope too, but moreover this is our commitment.

Thank you, everyone.

Source: Italian Government, Presidency of the Council of Ministers,