Rocco Buttiglione is an Italian philosopher and statesman. A professor at St. Pius V University in Rome, Buttiglione is an expert on the thought of Pope St. John Paul II and was a longtime personal friend of the late pope. He taught for many years at the International Academy of Philosophy (IAP) in Liechtenstein, alongside Austrian philosopher Josef Seifert. Buttiglione has served as a member of Italy’s Parliament for many years. He has also served as the nation’s European Union Policy Minister, and Minister for Cultural Assets and Activities. He recently spoke to The European Conservative about Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis.
In 2015, the lowest number of births was registered in Italy since the country’s unification in 1861. But early in 2016, Italy’s government legalized civil unions, including for homosexual couples. Under the threat of a demographic implosion, shouldn’t the traditional family and traditional values be promoted in Italy?
This is not only the problem with Italy. The situation in many other European countries is not much better. Europe is experiencing an increasing number of old people and decreasing number of young people. If we do not change this trend, this will lead to disaster in many, but not all, European countries, especially Italy, Germany, Poland. France and Great Britain are a bit better off in this respect. Without any change, these countries will disappear completely.
I think this has something to do with the decline of Europe’s Christian roots. When my mother and father made the decision to have my sisters and me, they were much worse off than the average Italians today. They did it because they had hope. It seems that our continent has lost hope, and we have lost this idea of the importance and value of women. This was the great battle of John Paul II.
Women carry children, the life of the world, in their bodies. To be a person means to be able to carry children not in the uterus, but in the heart to maturity and to eternal life with God. Now we have a society that educates people to not carry anybody in their hearts. In the heart there is a void. Everyone is alone with himself. There are no lasting friendships. There are no great loves.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Young people fall in love. When they fall in love, they have the intuition that this is forever. We tell them: “No, that is not true. Love is not real. The one who loves more will suffer more.” We don’t tell them that it is worthwhile to persevere. In love, there are difficult times.
What are the political and economic implications of this depressing demographic situation? Policymakers seem anxious to try to preclude this looming disaster.
This is the most important problem that we have. These social matters will cause economic problems. We have too many old people and too few young people, so we do not have enough taxpayers. The situation will become even worse.
I will give you an example. My parents had three children. My mother did not work and took care of the family. My father died when he was 58. Thus three people paid for the pension of one person, a small pension. We all were better educated then our parents and have greater incomes than our parents.
Now, on average an Italian woman has 1.3 children. Both the father and mother typically work, and when the children are grown up, 1.3 children have to pay two pensions, although their salaries will not be much larger than those of their parents, because there is not a big economic boom.
How long can we go on like this? We can invite people from other countries, but that is not a long-term solution. If young workers have to pay such a large amount of taxes to support such pensions, the labor costs will be high. If they make 2-2,500 euros, they will get 1,100 euros. Then we will have few jobs. We cannot have any way out of this situation without moral renewal. The question of the family is also the question of the economy.
You have noted that some European countries, such as France or Britain, are in a better demographic situation than the rest of the continent. Both countries provide generous tax breaks and subsidies for families, especially larger ones. Do you think that there are other policies that could improve a nation’s demographic prospects?
Of course, there are policies that could improve the situation. The first set of policies is already implemented in some countries and consists of significant allowances and tax cuts for each child. These policies recognize to a certain extent the fact that children are the workforce and taxpayers of tomorrow and will support with their taxes and contributions the welfare state and, in most countries, also the pensions of the age group of their parents. In that age group there is, however, a consistent number of people who have had no children and did not pay for the rearing and education of the new generation.
This is today perhaps the greatest social injustice in our countries: there is a enormous transfer of wealth from families to non-families; families pay for the new generations and the non-families reap the fruits. It is a matter of strict justice that the non-families should pay at least in part those costs.
There is, however, a problem. Monetary transfer policies often increase the number of births, but they may also tend to increase of births out of wedlock by too young mothers. Having children may become a way for young girls to make a living out of the public assistance and to become emancipated from the family authority.
This, of course, does not create a proper environment for the education of the child. A thoroughgoing investigation would probably give evidence of the fact that a consistent number of births in Great Britain and France show these characteristics.
A second set of measures is related not so much to births as the family in itself. These imply measures that favor the acquisition of a home for young couples offering them lower interest rates and longer terms for the repayment of capital, parental leaves in occasion of the birth of children, cost free or low cost kindergartens for children. An alternative to public kindergartens is now in Germany the Tagesmuttergeld (daily mother’s money), the state provides the mother with a certain sum of money she may use to pay for the assistance to her children. This allows small private kindergartens to flourish that offer better services, better adapted to the demands of the mothers, at a lower cost to the state.
Much remains to be done. All policies should be considered from the point of view of the family. The labor market is tailored on the measure of a male without family obligations. We need flexible hours for mothers and fathers. The labor market demands increased mobility; workers often have to move from one place to another, from one city to another. What happens when one spouse has to move to another city to find a new job? What can be done to help to preserve the unity of the family? Vast opportunities are offered now by the new technologies that allow for the fulfillment of the working obligations without being physically present on the working place. Who takes care to use these opportunities in the service of families?
Young people need to spend an increasingly long part of their lives in school and college in order to be capacitated for increasingly sophisticated jobs. The time of marriage is more and more delayed. As a consequence, they often become engaged in a sexually promiscuous lifestyle. Some of them will never be able to enter into a marriage relationship. Others will find it difficult and end up in divorce. All will put off the date of birth of the first child and many will have fertility problems, because after a certain age the capacity to conceive (especially for women) sharply declines.
An urgent question is: what can be done in order to allow young people to get married and have children at an earlier age? The answers may differ in different countries. In some countries, we have a retributive system that privileges the older and it could be modified in favor of the young. For those who pursue careers that require several years of academic preparation we could revise our system of scholarships and loans to the students etc.
In general, all social policies should be reconsidered assuming families and not individuals as the main partners. This might be also an answer to the crisis of the welfare state. A fundamental problem of our welfare system is the assistance to the senior generation. If we succeeded to keep the older people integrated in the family and to assist them in the family, giving to the family the appropriate support, the aging people would be happier, they would live longer and the public would spend less. On the contrary, today families willing to assist their aging or disabled members are often unable to do that for the want of adequate public support. All this is important, but not decisive. We need a cultural revolution that educates the new generation to appreciate the value of the archetypes of manliness and of femininity, of their being one for the other and of their encounter in conjugal love and in the creation of a family. The key issue is cultural, although of course politics could do a great deal in favor of families.
Speaking of demographics, there has been a lot of debate about Muslim migrants to Europe. What are your thoughts on this?
I know two things: The first is that when the Muslims arrive, they have a strong identity. This is a challenge to us. They are Muslims; what are we? I think we should ask ourselves the question of our identity, which is the question of the Christian roots of Europe.
The second thing is that Muslims are more difficult to integrate. I am a friend of numerous Polish families. After a few years of living in Italy, the parents become as Italian as I am. Meanwhile, their children are more Italian than I am. With the Muslims, things are not so easy.
Sociologists have discovered that in the case of Turks living in Germany, after one, two, or even three generations, the Turks are still Turkish. You can be a Pole and Italian. There’s no problem with that. Jan Kochanowski [one of the most important Polish poets who lived during the Renaissance and who studied in Italy — editor’s note] was a Pole, the first great Polish poet. He studied in Padua and knew Petrarch better than I do. This is because we have families of nations.
The crime rate among Polish immigrants to Italy is only minimally higher than it is among native Italians. Among Filipino immigrants, it’s actually lower, because Filipino immigrants in Italy are overwhelmingly female. This is not necessarily so in the case of immigrants from the Middle East. We are all the children of God, but there are similarities between nations. The way in which Poles see women is not very different from the way Italians see them. With Muslims, it’s different. ‘Is it wrong to say that we should favour immigration from culturally related countries who can be integrated more easily? I don’t think they can be more easily integrated necessarily because they are Christian.
I will give you a counter-example. Albanians are Muslims, but they integrate very well. In Poland, there is a Muslim Tatar minority that has lived there for centuries. Throughout history, the Tatars have been as much Polish patriots anyone else. They gave their lives for Poland in many wars. This is not only a matter of religion. There are those immigrants who can be integrated easily, and those who cannot. As a rule, Christians are more easily integrated, with exceptions of course.