Less marriages, less cribs; more divorces, more abortions. Not to mention the “demographic winter”, and widespread poverty, that worsened as a result of the ongoing economic crisis. In Europe the family is subjected to internal and external threats. Although it should be admitted that in the Old Continent there are visible signs of hope, from the young couples that swear mutual, eternal love, to the mothers strolling with their children. Europe is looking forward to the World Meeting of Families in Milan with a long set of challenges that call into question, inter alia, national and EU family policies.
The demographic thorn. The first knot regards demographic data. Third millennium Europe has more people over 65 than under 15; with growing rates of ageing population (this is a positive elements considering the rise in life expectancy), but birth-rates decrease. Family units, ever more frequently consisting in a single person (the so-called “single”), on average amount to no more than 2.5 people: in contemporary Europe there are ever less children. Researches presented in the past years by several universities, by Eurostat or by the Spanish Institut de politica familiar, show that 700 thousand less children are born each year compared to 30 years ago (a third of whom are born out of religious or civil wedlock); mothers give birth for the first time at 29, on average. Abortions amount to over one million per year. Divorces, also amounting to a million per year, involve an overall number of 20-25 million children.
Behaviours, regulations. The second aspect, related to the above-mentioned data, relates to individual or collective behavior, namely, to “widespread culture”. In 2012 Europe personal behavior is marked by increased self-focus, centered on individual fulfillment (at work, in affections and leisure) rather than on “social responsibility” expressed also – and not only – with clear and definitive lifestyles like marriage or the creation of a family. The same can be said for children: today’s youth, who are called to address surging uncertainties that include unemployment, tend to postpone choices regarding maternity and paternity. A wide set of researches clearly states it. There is also a “political” knot. Meaning that it’s hard to identify a European State that invests for the family with adequate services, job policies (reconciling professional and family life), economic incentives, tax cuts, help to large families and much more. Family policies are still the responsibility of single Sates, but governments, regardless of their “political colour” and maybe also owing to the pressure of recession, seem more sensitive to other “items of expenditure”, rather than helping, promoting and valueing the family.
Little clarity. It should be reiterated that according to the Treaties, including the Lisbon Treaty, the family doesn’t fall with EU areas of activity. Annexed to the Lisbon Treaty, with cogent value, figures the Charter of Fundamental Rights, whose article 9 states: “The right to marry and the right to found a family shall be guaranteed in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of these rights”. The EU thus has no legislative powers over the family, except for cross-border issues, such as divorces or successions between citizens with different nationalities. However, in recent years it became ever more frequent, notably on the part of the European Parliament, to take a stand via non-legislative resolutions, which, albeit lacking normative value, tend to provide specific political interpretation to affective and parental relations between individuals. It is the case of two recent resolutions, one of past March and one of May, respectively dedicated to gender equality and to the fight on homophobia, which surreptitiously inserts a presumed duty of the States of the EU to recognize to de facto couples or homosexual unions the same values and rights granted to the family. Moreover, EU measures for the family are carried out indirectly through health protection schemes, consumer policy, stimulating growth in depressed areas, workers’ protection, reconciling professional and family life, migration policies (family reunification). The Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) carried out a detailed analysis on this issue, to be found in the Report, published in 2007, titled “Proposal for a EU strategy in support of couples and marriage” which provides a snapshot of the situation at EU level and identifies various areas of intervention at national and European level in favour of the family.