BERLIN – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban built his political mark on saying "no" to immigration.
But his resolute resistance – if combined with an exodus of young workers and low birth rates – created a demographic nightmare. The population of Hungary is decreasing, a trend that poses long-term risks to the economy. It also caused short-term political problems in Orban, which had to enact unpopular labor laws to try to squeeze more hours from a declining work force.
Rather than rethinking his immigration policies, Sunday's prime minister doubled his favorite solution: Hungarian women need more children.
In his annual state of the nation speech, Orban announced a large number of incentives to get his compatriots and women into a childish state. More dramatically, he said that every woman who has four children or more will never have to pay the income tax again
As with almost every speech, the right-wing prime minister and increasingly autocratic has used the 39. Announcement to counteract its approach with that of Western Europe, and to target exactly those that see every positive aspect of immigration.
"There are fewer and fewer children throughout Europe, and the West's response to this is migration," Orban said. "They want migrants to enter how many children are missing, so that the numbers add up."
Hungary, he insisted, has a better answer: "We Hungarians have a different way of thinking, instead of just numbers, we want Hungarian children.The migration for us is the surrender."
Beyond the tax exemption for mothers of four or more, the prime minister offered state support to those who bought seven-seater vehicles, mortgage aids to parents with more children and additional places in nurseries.
Orban did not say how the measures will be financed.
Proposals still need parliamentary approval. But in Hungary, where Orban won the two-thirds parliamentary majority last spring to secure his fourth term, the approval for the Prime Minister's initiatives is almost guaranteed.
This is not the first time Orban – who, with his wife, has five children – has tried to persuade the Hungarians to take the reproductive rhythm. Previously, he introduced a measure that offered families a tax reduction for each new child.
He said that his current mandate is dedicated to solving the country's demographic problems and that convincing women to have more children is at the heart of this effort. He promised shortly after last year's victory to "reach a global agreement with Hungarian women".
In the world dominated by the men of Hungarian politics, he does so with little input from the women themselves.
There are more men called Laszlo (two) than there are women (one) in his cabinet. The solitary woman has no portfolio, which gave her a little power in a government that has moved aggressively on gender issues, including the prohibition of funding gender education programs in Hungarian universities.
Orban explained the absence of women in government jobs by suggesting that they are unable to handle the "stress" of the rough world that is Hungarian politics.
The fertility rate in Hungary – 1.45 children per woman – is lower than the average of 1.58 in the whole of the European Union. With a large number of young Hungarians leaving the country in search of better wages and greater freedom elsewhere in Europe, the population is steadily declining. Nearly 10 million today, is expected to be just over 8 million by 2050.
Other countries in Central and Eastern Europe are facing such a decline in population. And other governments have found that encouraging childbearing can be a politically popular way to tackle the problem. In Poland, the Justice and Justice party has found favor with a plan to offer subsidies to families with two or more children.
Orban's proposal comes as he prepares to challenge the European parliamentary elections he has chosen as a binary choice between the cosmopolitan liberalism of the West and nationalist, "illiberal democracy" that has helped pioneer in Hungary.
As in previous campaigns, Orban aggressively denigrated the American Hungarian financier George Soros, proclaiming without proof that the philanthropic billionaire is using his "agents" – including leading European politicians, the free press and non-profit groups – to flood the Europe of migrants.
Orban built fences in 2015 and 2016 to keep asylum seekers away, while other European countries, particularly Germany, welcomed a large number of new arrivals. In Germany, arrivals helped the country to stop a long-term demographic shift.
In his Sunday speech, Orban railed against "mixed population countries" and warned that Christians were becoming a minority in Europe. "There is no return ticket," he said.
Normally secure, politically, Orban had recently stumbled on legislation to allow employers to ask more workers for their work overtime. Nicknamed the "slave law" by critics, it has been widely seen as an attempt to address a labor shortage that left employers without enough workers.
The passage of the law has triggered mass protests by unions, opposition parties and civil society in December and January.
One of these protests was held on Sunday while the prime minister spoke, although the crowd was smaller than the one that had filled the central squares of Budapest in the previous weeks. Opponents argue that labor law puts a strain on domestic life by preventing parents from spending time with their children and contrasts with the government's insistence on their family
"If the government is serious about supporting families ", opposition lawmaker Bernadett Szel wrote on Facebook after Orban's speech," must start by withdrawing the law on slaves that breaks the family. "