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European University Institute - Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies

Solidarity and the COVID-19 pandemic

On 21 January the first EUI-YouGov Data Conference took place at the Schuman Centre, where the participants discussed the outcome of the EUI-YouGov survey, launched in 2018 with the aim to explore EU citizens’ attitudes towards solidarity in Europe.

03 February 2022 | Event - Research


Over time the survey has become a project - the ‘Solidarity in Europe’ project - led by Anton Hemerijck and Philipp Genschel and has gradually encompassed more respondents and issues, particularly surrounding important events that transpired since the inception of the project. Against the background of COVID-19, the focus of the 2021 wave was naturally on attitudes regarding vaccination and pandemic restrictions, setting the tone of the Conference itself.

How did COVID-19 fundamentally affect interpersonal and institutional trust, cross-border solidarity and support for vaccination and restrictions? Researchers analysed indicators on individual attitudes, beliefs and institutional settings to try to answer this question. Here are some of the main findings:

  1. Solidarity is still in high demand but low supply. The past crisis (the sovereign debt crisis early, the refugee crises, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU) have raised demand for solidarity but have damaged support for it.
  2. Public support for solidarity remains high, but the COVID-19 pandemic did not de-nationalise solidarity: politics of solidarity are still mainly driven by national concerns, even among the most supranational-oriented citizens and even if the virus knows no borders.
  3. Support for vaccines and restrictions are highly politicised. Support for both these measures are typically much lower among those with radical right political views. With governments leading the effort to contain the spread of the virus, opposition voters tend to be more sceptical of pandemic policy, as do countries with lower trust in institutions.
  4. Ambiguous political communication is electorally effective. Respondents favoured parties sporting ambivalent and vague strategies, but punished those whose strategies were contradictory. Committing is potentially damaging to parties.
  5. There is room for higher taxes to mitigate COVID-19, but not so much on climate change. Citizens may accept (progressive) tax increases to finance economic assistance to other COVID-stricken member-states, unlike fuel tax increases to mitigate climate change, potentially because of the timeless trade-offs of climate policy and the urgency associated to the current pandemic.

The event was the first in an annual cycle of conferences around this project. The 2022 survey will tap into new dimensions such as post-COVID ‘affective polarisation’, determinants of EU support and EU institutional reform.

The results will be presented in the next State of the Union conference, with a look at the evolution of attitudes over the last five years, marking also the project’s fifth anniversary.

Last update: 09 March 2022

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