In most European countries life is fair

People in most European states think that life is generally “fair”. However, in numerous states citizens have some concerns over income inequality, justice, political decisions, etc. Particularly different opinions are among the citizens in the Baltic States; there are reasons to believe that politicians in the Baltics would take European analysis seriously.

The Commission’s science and knowledge service together with the Joint Research Centre (JRC) produced its first Fairness Report prepared at the end of 2017. It analysed data and statistics on income inequality, on the impact that family background and geographical location have on opportunities in education, health and the labour market, and on people’s perceptions and attitudes. The JRC also launched a Community of Practice on Fairness, connecting EU policy makers with academics and researchers working on fairness related issues.


The JRC will use the survey data and the latest scientific research to continue building a knowledge base to support EU policies aimed at creating a fairer society. In 2019 it will publish a series of policy briefs as well as the second edition of the Fairness Report.

The new special Eurobarometer 471 “Fairness, inequality and inter-generational mobility” was conducted through face to face interviews in December 2017; more than 28 thousand people were interviewed in 28 EU countries.

The results of the Special Eurobarometer survey published in spring 2018, showed EU citizens’ approach to some wider issues including unfairness issues in employment, education, health, political decisions, etc.

European approach to “fairness”

The Commission has put forward a series of legal and policy initiatives including a proposal to increase gender equality by improving the balance between private and professional life for working parents, as well as proposals aiming at creating more predictable and transparent working conditions and access to social protection for all. It was all envisaged by the European Pillar of Social Rights, adopted by the EU states at the end of 2017.


Besides, to harness the full potential of education and culture in boosting social fairness, participation and economic growth, the Commission is working towards a European Education Area by 2025, proposing a series of initiatives on education, youth and culture. Its first package of measures presented in January 2018 included a proposal on strengthening inclusive education to promote quality education for all pupils.

Fairness is a crucial part of building a more resilient and cohesive Europe. Therefore the Commission’s initiatives is based on sound evidence while taking into account Europeans’ values and perceptions. The JRC’s work is helping to increase politicians’ guidance in the member states in contributing to a better European future.

Main findings for the Baltic States’ situation

According to the Eurobarometer, a majority of Europeans think that most things that happen in their lives are fair and that they have equal opportunities to get ahead. Nevertheless, they are less convinced that justice and political decisions are applied in an equal and consistent way in their countries regardless of people’s social status, wealth and connections. The vast majority also feel that income inequalities are too great and that governments should address them, while fewer than half believe that equality of opportunity and their social status have improved over time.

The main findings of the Eurobarometer survey cover education, income, social status and inter-generational mobility. They also address perceptions of migration and globalisation, the former being one of the drivers of rising inequalities and the latter being a proxy for political preferences which are among the determinants of attitudes to fairness and inequality.

Main findings show that:

·         More than half of respondents in Europe think that people have equal opportunities to get ahead(58%). However, this figure hides substantial regional disparities, with 81% agreeing in Denmark, but only 18% in Greece. In the Baltic States: in Latvia -51%, in Lithuania -55% and in Estonia -58%.

·         Respondents in the EU states are less optimistic about fairness in specific fields. Only 39% are confident that justice always prevails over injustice, while the most states disagree: e.g. in Latvia -64%, in Lithuania -59% and in Estonia -41%. Even more pessimistically, only 32% of Europeans agree that political decisions are applied consistently to all citizens and 48% disagree (in this category are the 3 Baltic States: in Latvia 63%, in Lithuania 56 and in Estonia -45%. Overall, people are more likely to perceive things to be fair if they are better educated, younger, and better-off.

·         The overwhelming majority think that income differences are too great (EU’s average 82%), ranging from 96% in Portugal and 92% in Germany to 59% in the Netherlands. IN the Baltic States: in Latvia 89%, in Estonia 87% and in Lithuania -92%.

In all countries except Denmark more than 60% agree that governments should take measures to reduce differences.

·         For getting ahead in life, good health and quality education are regarded as essential or important by 98% and 93% of respondents respectively. Working hard and knowing the right people are also deemed essential or important by more than 90%. Coming from a wealthy family, having political connections, being of a specific ethnic origin or birth gender are seen as less important.

·         Over 80% of Europeans think that the governments that should take measures to reduce differences in incomes; in the Baltic States the situation is the following: in Latvia 91%, in Lithuania 93% and in Estonia 76%.

·         Fewer than half of respondents (46% the EU’ average) believe that opportunities to get ahead have become more equal compared to 30 years ago, with more than 70% agreeing in Malta, Finland and Ireland, but fewer than 25% in Croatia, France and Greece. In the Baltic States the corresponding figures are on the EU’s level: in Latvia -43%, in Estonia 49% and in Lithuania -39%.

·         Totally, 47% of Europeans think that globalisation is a good thing and 21% disagree; as to migration, 39% think migration into their country is a good thing while 33% do not.

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