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Europe – A World-Class Place To Live And Work? -by Juan Menéndez-Valdés

A world-class place to live and work.’ That is how President Juncker described Europe at the summit to formally proclaim the EU Pillar of Social Rights in Gothenburg last month.

And he added: ‘Europe is more than just a single market, more than money … It is about our values and the way we want to live’.

So how do we live? Do the 510 million Europeans across the current 28 Member States really feel that their living conditions are ‘world-class’?

Certainly, many do. But many others still face inequalities and feel excluded or insecure, worry about access to decent housing and jobs and wonder about the future for themselves and their children. This is reflected in growing populist sentiment that seems to reject the Establishment, making the general narrative on Europe appear largely negative.

But, as always, the reality is significantly more complex.

In fact, the last few years have been generally good and the ‘wind is (indeed) back in Europe’s sails’.

The results from the most recent European Quality of Life Survey show overall progress in the areas of quality of life, quality of society and quality of public services. We have seen improvements for many, although from low points following the economic crisis. Indeed, in some cases, the indicators finally display a return to pre-crisis levels – reflecting, in part, the general economic upturn and return to growth across the Member States.

Levels of optimism have risen, and life satisfaction and happiness ratings have remained generally high in most EU countries. Satisfaction with living standards has increased in a majority of Member States and more people can now make ends meet than was the case in 2011.

Trust in national institutions has actually increased across the board and young people in particular show greater trust in other people. The welcome growth in engagement and participation in social and community organisations across Member States and the decline in feelings of social exclusion, which were more prevalent in the downturn, are also signs of a more positive post-crisis environment.

Indeed, perceived tensions in society between poor and rich people, management and workers, old and young persons and men and women, have all declined during the last five years.

Older people indeed fare less well than their younger counterparts, particularly in some central and eastern European countries, and age clearly contributes to decreasing life satisfaction in Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia. In two-thirds of the EU Member States, more than half of respondents also have concerns about their levels of income in old age.

In fact, despite growth that has seen fewer people reporting material hardship compared to five years ago, over half of the population in 11 Member States still say they have difficulties making ends meet.

This is marginally down on the 13 Member States where the majority of people expressed difficulties making ends meet in 2011 , but still more than 2007 levels. As always, the poor suffer most, and the results show that quality of life has improved less for those in lower income groups.

Read the complete report: Europe – A World-Class Place To Live And Work?

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