Less trust all round – Europe in the wake of the crisis

‘Divided and unequal societies are not only unjust, they also cannot guarantee stability in the long term’ (Council of Europe)

The effects of the economic crisis continue to be felt across Europe. To get an insight into precisely what those effects are on the lives of Europeans, a new report from Eurofound looks at trends in quality of life over the last decade, using findings from Eurofound’s European Quality of Life survey to gauge both the long-term trends in people’s lives and see what effects the the onset of the crisis in 2008 may have had.

A key element in people’s quality of life is the society they inhabit – its social relations and institutions. A clear trend that emerges from examining the survey’s findings is that the extent to which people in Europe trust one another has diminished over time – and unevenly across Europe. In 2003, people in the then EU Member States (the EU15) rated the extent to which they trusted other people as 5.8 out of a possible 10; in the countries that were about to enter the EU at the time (the EU12), trust in other people was markedly lower – 4.9. However, in 2007, the gap had almost halved – not because people in the EU12 had become more trusting but because citizens in the EU15 had become much less trusting of others. And in 2011, the gap enlarged again as levels of trust in the EU12 fell by more than those in the EU15.

Decrease in trust in other people by country group, 2003–2011

  2003 2007 2011
EU15 5.80 5.30 5.28
EU12 4.90 4.83 4.62


In the long term, trust in public institutions is vital for the overall dem­ocratic legitimacy of a system. However, the trust of many Europeans in their political institutions has been shaken since the onset of the crisis. In 2011, people in Europe reported less trust in their parliaments, legal systems, press, police forces and governments than they did in 2007. And for three of these four public institutions – the legal system, police and press – there was a larger fall in trust (and from a lower starting point).  

Changes in trust in public institution by country group, 2007–2011


Trust in parliament

Trust in the legal system

Trust in the press

Trust in police

Trust in government

  2007 2011 2007 2011 2007 2011 2007 2011 2007 2011
EU15 4.90 4.38 5.44 5.08 4.54 4.41 6.31 6.22 4.84 4.16
EU12 3.57 3.06 4.27 3.80 4.92 4.28 5.23 4.95 3.79 3.23
EU27 4.61 4.10 5.20 4.82 4.62 4.39 6.09 5.96 4.62 3.97


For tensions between different social groups, the report finds a more complex picture. In the EU overall, people perceived less tension in 2011 between different racial and ethnic groups than in 2007 – a declining trend since 2003. Given the extent of migration over recent years, this may appear surprising; however, it may indicate that people are becoming more used to newcomers to their country. The picture is quite different in the EU12 group, however: here people perceive more tension. There is less migration to countries in the EU12, so this may reflect tension between internal racial and ethnic groups (for example, the Roma people).

For detailed findings on all the aspects of quality of life addressed by the report, download Quality of life in Europe: Trends 2003‑2012.

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