Where do political leaders get the idea to award subsidies to owners of fuel-efficient cars and solar panels? Why does a government decide to get rid of a tax on dividends? And how come politicians think it’s a good idea to include education about homosexuality in the curriculum of every primary school in the country?

A big part of the political decision-making takes place behind closed doors, where organizations like Greenpeace and Shell try and persuade politicians to move in their direction. Kees van der Staaij, leader of the Dutch reformed political party SGP, has seen a lot of it in recent years.

Sorely missing, however, are good lobbyists for the traditional family, he said recently at a pro-family conference organized by his party as part of its hundred year anniversary.

A catholic pro-family movement

Maybe in the Netherlands there is no such a thing as a pro-family lobby group (at least not yet), but in Europe there is: FAFCE. It’s a non-governmental organization and a federation of Catholic family associations from different European countries. They have united themselves in order to better serve the interests of the family on a European level.

Its president is Frenchman Antoine Renard, and he says families in Europe are under a great deal of pressure.

“Fathers come home from work exhausted, having no time to talk. Many young people are unemployed. There are currently 21 million people in Europe without a job, of which ten million are affected by long-term unemployment. Old people are often lonely, with only their television left for company. Migrant families expect an unreasonable lot from Europe. A million abortions take place on a yearly basis and our demography shows signs of extinction: the average fertility rate is 1.5 children per woman,” Renard said.

Those are scary facts to a lot of people. Will young people decide to leave an aging Europe? In 2050 one in three Europeans will be over the age of 65. However, according to Renard, theoretically speaking the tables can be turned.

“If you ask people what they would have liked to have done differently in their life, the average person will tell you: ‘I would have liked to have had another baby.’ Apparently we would love to have more children and if every woman would give birth to an extra child, we would have an average fertility rate of 2.5 children per woman and a healthy demography,” he said.

Lack of trust

But why exactly do women tend to have less children than they would actually like? According to the Frenchman, one of the reasons is the fact that people remain single for such a long time.

“There is a total lack of trust. Lack of trust in themselves, in love, in the government. People do not feel safe enough to enter into a relationship or to bring their relationship to the next level. There is a growing amount of selfishness around. People do want the joys a relationship brings, but not the burdens that come with it. And so they decide to enter into loose relationships. Or they have such responsible and demanding jobs that they desire only peace and quiet during the weekends. Children do not fit into that picture. ‘Becoming a mother? Not now, maybe later,’ is what many women are saying. Big companies like Apple and Facebook are offering their female employees the chance to freeze their eggs for free, so they can delay motherhood and pursue a career first. It’s the world turned upside down,” he said.

The numbers don’t lie. Currently there are 55 million people in Europe who are living on their own. A number that will continue to grow with the rise in divorce rates and life expectancy. “It’s not good for man to be alone,” Renard said, quoting the Bible.

Real change

According to him, what the family needs is a strong European lobby, because the European Union is responsible for 80 percent of all laws in Europe. Therefore, the EU is the place where real change can happen.

“The family should be put on the political agenda. Newlyweds should be able to get a house so they can start a family. Young people need a paid job so they can take care of their family. In Europe every child should be welcomed,” Renard said.

People with children should also be able to benefit from tax incentives, according to FAFCE. “They cannot make as much money, as they also need to take care of their children.” More spare time should also be made available to families.

Catholics take the lead

“We families should be organized as a network and help each other!” Renard stressed. “We cannot solve this on our own. We need each other.” FAFCE collaborates with both Catholic and Christian family associations from different European countries. However, no such contacts exist with a Dutch family association. Until now: a few Catholic movements in the Netherlands are working together to create a Christian pro-family network. The initiators tell us they would like to collaborate with FAFCE in order to better defend the family in Europe.

Renard is excited about this prospect: “In almost every European country Catholics are taking the lead. They are the ones who most fervently defend the rights of the family.  And we’re stronger together than apart. That’s what we saw in France, when two years ago two hundred thousand people took part in the Manif pour Tous in Paris and demonstrated against artificial reproduction and surrogacy for and adoption by gay couples. Because we’re a united front, we were able to mobilize so many people.”

Regain trust

FAFCE is also working together with several politicians in Europe. They sent a manifesto to all European Parliamentary candidates. Some of them signed the manifesto, indicating that they support pro-family politics. As soon as they are elected, they get a call from FAFCE.

The president of the European Parliament, Italian Antonio Tajani, is a member of the Christian Democratic EPP group. He was one of the members signing the manifesto.

“In this way we are able to increase our influence within the European Parliament. But it takes a lot of time. Step by step, member by member.” And unlike other lobby groups, FAFCE has little money to spend. “Unless every family donates a dollar. In that case we’re immensely rich,” Renard joked.

He thinks political leaders are aware of the importance of healthy families in Europe.

“Families are a fundamental unit of our society. The power of the family is the solution to many of Europe’s problems. Only in a family can you really be free to be who you want to be. But most importantly, the love in a family is a hidden treasure. This is where trust grows. The family is the place where we can regain our shattered trust.”

This may be so, but there aren’t many politicians in Europe willing to put the family high on their agenda.

“They are afraid of supporting the family, because of the fear of being accused of discrimination,” Renard said.

God’s own project

However, Renard is not afraid that families are on the losing side in Europe. “Families will never disappear; people have an innate desire to start a family. The family is God’s own project. He will never give up on it.”

This article was originally published in the Dutch Catholic weekly Katholiek Nieuwsblad on November 2, 2018. It was translated for Crux by Susanne van den Berk.