Trust in national institutions across the bloc has declined over the past two years, in part driven by social media, a comprehensive report by Eurofound, the EU’s social policy agency, has found.
The report covered the period from spring 2020 to spring 2022: two years that were marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and successive restrictions, as well as, recently, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The decline in trust in national institutions is certainly due to ongoing and accumulating crises such as COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine. But this explanation is superficial. The uncertainty that crises create is amplified by social networks, including through fake news and disinformation,” Eurofound’s Executive Director, Ivaylo Kalfin, told EURACTIV Bulgaria.
Kalfin, a former deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria and MEP, has led the Dublin-based European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) since 2021.
He added that increased instability and fear of what the future may hold act as fuel for political engagement – and can often lead to fragmentation. “Without being united behind a common cause, everywhere in Europe such people are politically active and give way to the power of non-traditional parties – often nationalist,” Kalfin said.
“The Brexit referendum was effectively decided by the passive supporters of the EU who did not vote and enabled the active opponents to win. It is clear that this decision does not bring benefit the country,” he added.
Decline in trust
The report, which was based on responses to an online survey from over 200,000 people across the EU, showed that trust in institutions overall has declined by an average of 13.4% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The biggest drop in trust was in national governments (-24.5%), followed by trust in health systems (-10.2%) and the police (-8.1%).
Among member states, nationals from Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Cyprus and Hungary were the least likely to express trust in their national governments. Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal and Luxembourg, on the other hand, were the most likely.
The survey shows that the trend of decline in trust holds true even for people who previously expressed higher trust levels, such as those in financially secure positions.
Europeans’ living and working patterns
The report examined factors that have marked the living and working lives of EU citizens over the past two years, highlighting the increased cost of living, the rise of teleworking and precarious mental well-being.
The research showed that, following the COVID pandemic, most respondents prefer to continue working remotely, either every day or several times a week. The share of these people is highest amongst those aged between 30 to 44, or those who have small children.
Hybrid work gained ground in 2021, staying at the same level – 18% – in 2022. By spring of 2022, 12% of Europeans work exclusively from home.
The cost of living in the EU is rising at an unprecedented rate, with the average inflation rate across the 27 EU member states close to 8% in March 2022.
A total of 53% of respondents reported that in the spring of 2022 their household had difficulty making ends meet. This is a significant increase from the reported 45% in 2021 and 47% at the start of the pandemic in 2020.
“Despite the lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions across EU member states by spring 2022, mental well-being levels remain lower than they were at the start of the pandemic. This could be attributed to the war in Ukraine for which 76% of respondents expressed high or very high concern”, the report says.
In particular, the study points to widespread insecurity facing financially vulnerable households for whom energy poverty is either already a reality or is looming.