Economic downturn puts EU citizens in the doldrums

BRUSSELS (Reuters Life!) - The European Union released its pan-European social survey on Tuesday and the results show that while most Europeans are fairly happy with their lives, the economic downturn has hit them hard.

City worker casts shadows in Leadenhall Market in the financial district of the City of London January 21, 2010. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

The Eurobarometer survey, the first conducted in the wake of the economic and financial crisis, quizzed more than 25,000 people across the EU during May and June last year and it found economic issues were front and center of their concerns.

The survey was conducted at a time when statistics showed the EU economy was contracting by around 5 percent year-on-year.

Respondents were worried about the outlook for jobs, the cost of living, the affordability of energy and housing, and the way public administrations are run across the 27-nation bloc.

An overwhelming majority in 23 member states indicated overall discontent with the economic situation, with respondents in Latvia, Hungary, Ireland and Greece the most dissatisfied. Only Denmark, Luxembourg, Cyprus and the Netherlands registered “satisfaction,” and even then it was limited.

“Public opinion is also pessimistic about the coming year, with negative ratings outweighing positive ones in almost all European countries,” the survey compilers said.

“Developments in these aspects of everyday life over the last five years are viewed in similarly negative fashion, with the prevalent feeling among Europeans being that the general situation has deteriorated rather than improved since 2004.”

Yet while views on the general situation across the European Union were largely downbeat, on a personal level many respondents said they were satisfied with life.

The most positive responses came -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- from the three Scandinavian countries surveyed: Sweden, Finland and Denmark. But there was also positivity among the Dutch and to an extent those in Cyprus and Belgium.

The most negative about their personal circumstances were the Hungarians, the Bulgarians, the Romanians and the Greeks.

The survey tried to capture Europeans’ expectations for satisfaction with life in the coming 12 months by looking at the difference between the proportion of those responding that life will get “better” and those answering “worse.”

The better-worse index score for the EU as a whole come in as +10 -- on a scale between -100 and +100 -- which suggests that Europeans broadly expect their lives to get better in the coming year, if not by very much.

Reporting by Sangeeta Shastry, editing by Luke Baker and Paul Casciato