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27th Sep 2021

Study: Covid generational divide 'to reshape EU politics'

  • Young people in Europe feel they have been the major victims of the pandemic (Photo: Valentina Pop)
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A deep generational divide and a reinforced geographical schism emerging after the Covid-19 pandemic could reshape European politics, a new study by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) found.

The pandemic has also redrawn many Europeans' attitudes towards politics and the role of the state, the report, which is based on polls conducted in 12 EU countries, published on Wednesday (1 September) said.

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While 54 percent of Europeans feel that they have not been affected "at all" by the Covid-19 pandemic, there are deep divisions among EU citizens' experiences with the pandemic.

Most people who live in the north and west of Europe feel unaffected by Covid-19 directly, but in eastern and southern Europe, most people say they have been directly affected by the illness or the ensuing economic hardship.

In Denmark, 72 percent said they had been not impacted at all by the pandemic. In Germany, 65 percent of respondents said they had not been impacted, with France and the Netherlands also standing above 60 percent.

Among respondents in Hungary, only 35 percent said they had not been impacted at all, while 48 percent said they had been impacted by the illness, and 17 said that they had been only impacted economically.

In Spain, only 36 percent had not been impacted at all, while 42 percent had been impacted by the illness, and 22 percent had been impacted economically. Italy, Bulgaria, and Poland have also shared similar figures.

Victims: The young

While the geographic divide following the Covid-19 pandemic only reinforced existing faultlines created by the euro crisis among north and south and the migration issue, creating a schism between west and east, a new division has emerged between young and old.

Young people in Europe feel they have been the major victims of the pandemic.

Almost two-thirds of respondents over the age of 60 do not feel that they have been personally affected by the coronavirus crisis but, among respondents aged under 30, only 43 percent feel unaffected, the report said.

There has also been a surge in cynicism among young people about governments' intentions, the study found.

The poll showed that younger people are less likely to believe that the main motivation of governments in introducing pandemic-related restrictions is to limit the spread of the virus.

Among under 30 respondents, 43 percent are sceptical of governments' motives: 23 percent think that their government mainly wants to create the appearance of control, while 20 percent say that governments are using the pandemic as an excuse to increase their control of the public.

The pandemic has added to the erosion of young Europeans' trust in democracy, the report warned.

Less free

The poll asked how Europeans feel the pandemic has impacted their sense of freedom compared to two years ago before the pandemic hit.

The reports showed that 22 percent of respondents say they still feel free in their everyday life now compared to 64 percent who say they felt free two years ago.

27 percent of the people do not feel free now compared to 7 percent two years ago.

The biggest share of people who currently feel free can be found in Hungary (41 percent) and Spain (38 percent). The largest share of people who do not feel free is in Germany (49 percent), and Austria (42 percent).

In fact, the crisis had the biggest impact on perceptions of freedom in Austria (a 63 percentage-point difference), the Netherlands (a 60 percentage-point difference), and Germany (a 57 percentage-point difference).

This could have a particularly interesting impact in Germany, where general elections are scheduled for later this month.

The report says that Germany's "superficial consensus hides very high levels of discontent".

Even supporters of parties in the coalition government feel unfree, with 42 percent (CDU/CSU) and 43 percent (Social Democrats), while 71 percent of far-right Alternative for Germany voters feel unfree.

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