Social media is fueling distrust of institutions across the EU, says report – EURACTIV.com
Trust in national institutions across the bloc has waned over the past two years, partly due to social media, a wide-ranging report by Eurofound, the EU’s social policy agency, has revealed.
That report covered the period from spring 2020 to spring 2022: two years marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing restrictions, and recently by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The loss of confidence 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 compounded by social media, including fake news and disinformation,” Ivaylo Kalfin, Executive Director of Eurofound, told EURACTIV Bulgaria.
Kalfin, former Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria and MEP, has headed the Dublin-based European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) since 2021.
He added that increasing instability and fear of the future serve as fuel for political engagement – and can often lead to fragmentation. “Without being united behind a common cause, such people are politically active across Europe, yielding to the power of non-traditional parties – often more nationalistic,” said Kalfin.
“The Brexit referendum was effectively decided by the EU’s passive supporters who didn’t vote and enabled active opponents to win. It is clear that this decision does not benefit the country,” he added.
The report, based on responses to an online survey of over 200,000 people across the EU, shows that overall trust in the institutions has fallen by an average of 13.4% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The greatest loss of trust was in national governments (-24.5%), followed by trust in healthcare systems (-10.2%) and the police (-8.1%).
Among Member States, nationals of Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Cyprus and Hungary were the least likely to express trust in their national governments. In contrast, the most likely countries were Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal and Luxembourg.
The survey shows that the trend of loss of trust also applies to people who have previously expressed higher levels of trust, for example in financially secure positions.
Life and work patterns of Europeans
The report examined factors that have shaped the living and working lives of EU citizens over the past two years, highlighting the rising cost of living, the rise in teleworking and precarious mental well-being.
The study showed that in the wake of the COVID pandemic, most respondents prefer to work remotely either daily or several times a week. The proportion of these people is highest among those aged 30 to 44 or those who have small children.
Hybrid work gained ground in 2021 and remained at the same level in 2022 – 18%. By Spring 2022, 12% of Europeans will be working exclusively from home.
The cost of living in the EU is rising at an unprecedented pace, with the average inflation rate across the 27 EU Member States standing at almost 8% in March 2022.
A total of 53% of respondents said their household was struggling to make ends meet in Spring 2022. 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 in EU member states by spring 2022, levels of mental well-being remain lower than at the start of the pandemic. This could be attributed to the war in Ukraine, about which 76% of respondents expressed great or very great concern,” the report says.
In particular, the study points to the widespread insecurity in financially weak households, for which fuel poverty is either already a reality or threatened.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]