Austrians ‘do not feel free’ due to Covid pandemic

Austrians 'do not feel free' due to Covid pandemic
Austrians report not feeling free due to the pandemic. Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP
The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) has published the results of a Europe-wide study about the impacts of the pandemic on society.

A new study has revealed political and societal divisions in countries across Europe as a result of the pandemic, with people in Austria experiencing a significant perceived loss of freedom.

The report, titled ​​Europe’s invisible rifts: How Covid-19 polarises European politics, shows 42 percent of people in Austria don’t feel free to organise their daily lives in the way they want to due to the pandemic.

This was followed by 42 percent saying they feel “partly free” and 15 percent saying they feel “free”.

Two years ago, 78 percent of people in Austria said they felt free, which means Austria has experienced the greatest change in perceived freedom out of the 12 EU countries surveyed.

Only in Germany was the loss of perceived freedom more acutely felt with 49 percent saying they don’t feel free.

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The next highest result was in France with 26 percent of people acknowledging a loss of freedom.

The ECFR looked at data from 12 EU member countries, which was then divided into four regions: North (Sweden, Denmark), West (Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands), East (Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria) and South (Italy, Portugal, Spain).

In the east and south, many people reported that Covid-19 has had a serious impact on their lives. Whereas, in the west and north, many people described the pandemic as like a “gruesome spectator sport”.

What about the rest of Europe?

According to the ECFR survey, 22 percent of people across Europe feel their freedom has been affected as a result of the pandemic and the associated restrictions.

But the authors of the report, ​​Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard, also discovered that Europe has become divided, like during the Euro and refugee crises.

Who has been hit hardest?

The report shows that people who have suffered financially are more likely to say restrictions have been too severe and are sceptical of governments.

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Additionally, Krastev and Leonard described the intergenerational gap in European society as “worrying”, with older generations less impacted by the pandemic than younger generations.

Almost two thirds (64 percent) of respondents over 60 say they have not experienced any personal disadvantages from the pandemic.

However, only 43 percent of people under the age of 30 say they have not been personally disadvantaged. Instead, they believe they are bearing the brunt of the aftermath of the crisis, especially young people in the south and east of Europe. 

The report states: “Across Europe, governments were right to focus on saving the lives of the oldest, but the time has come to focus on the problems of the young.”

The authors warn the pandemic could have “profound effects” on the EU, especially on projects such as freedom of movement, the pan-European economic recovery plan and the EU’s relations with the rest of the world.

Krastev and Leonard say social tensions are already appearing in some countries and the divisions could lead to a “deep divide” that results in the emergence of a new political age in Europe.

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