There is nothing like a good beginning. Verdi knew this. Take Nabucco, his third opera and first major success, which roars into life from the opening notes of the overture – splendid stuff. Some consider those of his operas with the Risorgimento undertones to have too many trumpets, drums and noise but I disagree and, besides, the drama of the children of Israel and the Babylonian exile merits stirring music. The exile does end, in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, And gather you from the west.” Which, of course, is exactly the problem today, not so much for the children of Israel but for the children of Poland. It appears that rather too many of their offspring have indeed been brought from the east and gathered in the west.
Put simply, Poland has a population problem – there are not enough Poles. According to Eurostat (not exactly Isaiah, I grant you but we’ll have to cut our suit according to our cloth) Poland’s population could drop from 38.2 million to 29 million by 2050. Leaving aside the exodus –not quite of biblical proportions but a good attempt nonetheless – of workers since Poland joined the EU, those women who remain are simply not having enough children. In common with much of the EU birth rates have dropped so that the average woman in Poland now has 1.3 children while recent research by the UK’s Office for National Statistics has found that the typical Polish-born woman in England and Wales has given birth to 2.13 children.
The reasons? “The instability of employment [in Poland], the difficulty in placing your child in a nursery or kindergarten and little parental support from the state are discouraging couples from having children,” according to Professor Irena E. Kotowska from the Institute of Statistics and Demography quoted last month in daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita. I have mentioned this before (please also see Ordinary People and Mother and Child) but it appears that help is now at hand as Opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has declared he would seek EU funding for families who have a second child if he wins the 2015 general election.
Currently 5 percent ahead of Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform party in the polls, Kaczynski’s Law and Justice (PiS) party, would aim to divide the funding between the state treasury and the EU. In his view, having a child is a heavy burden and his party would pay 500 zloty per month (118 euro) for every second child in a family and the poorest families will also be paid for their first child. Kaczynski estimates that about 2 billion euros per year would be needed from EU funds. Funnily enough, he did not appear to repeat his plea to Poles to return from the UK (please see Friends with Benefits) a plea which, I suspect, fell largely on deaf ears.
Interestingly there is similar debate in the UK where improvements to tax allowances for child care costs have been announced although the UK, unlike Poland and many other EU countries, now faces the challenges of dramatic population growth over the thirty years in no small part due to the effect of large scale immigration from the EU and beyond. Funnily enough, I don’t see the EU rushing to help the UK deal with effects of this increasing strain in the infrastructure other than to suggest, seriously, that the UK makes it easier for EU citizens to access benefits while watching Belgium expel its unemployed migrants from elsewhere in the EU. No wonder folk increasingly fail to take the EU seriously, and no wonder Mr. Putin doesn’t either, but that’s another story.
Be that as it may, we do need more children in Europe in general, and Poland in particular, if we are to avoid another of Isaiah’s prophesies: “Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.”