Should votes at 16 spread throughout the European Union?

  • Post author:
  • Reading time:5 mins read

This question is bound to be a key feature of our half-day event on 24 January 2024: European Citizenship in the run-up to the European elections.

The reason for this is that Votes at 16 is THE innovation for the organisation of the elections in Belgium on 9 June 2024. Are the generation Z voters — both Belgian and EU resident — even aware of their new right? How can they be reached? What are their concerns? Both local and European politicians will be asked at this event, as we look forward to hearing from the following speakers and panellists (selection):

  • Domènec Ruiz Devesa MEP, Rapporteur on the reform of the European Union’s electoral law
  • Maite Pagazaurtundúa MEP, Rapporteur on the implementation of the Treaty provisions related to EU Citizenship;
  • Loránt Vincze MEP, author of a report calling for reforms of ECIs
  • Els Gossé, Deputy Mayor of Ixelles in charge of European Affairs
  • Frank van Bockstal, Deputy Mayor of Etterbeek in charge of Europeans Affairs

The campaign supported by the ECIT Foundation for young people to come together in Voters Without Borders has called for extension of the franchise

  • an end to disenfranchisement of EU citizens exercising their rights to freedom of movement 
  • full political rights for 13.7 millions of mobile EU citizens 
  • reducing the gap between EU citizens and 23.7 million third-country nationals. 

Such demands have been taken up by the European Parliament, but there has been an absence of agreement in the Council of Ministers on enlarging the right to vote and removing barriers to its practice. The emphasis is more on protecting elections against external threats than internal reforms. This is also why votes at 16 is so important.

In May 2022, the European Parliament made a proposal for a Council regulation on a new European Electoral Act — which sets the voting age at 16 whilst allowing for exceptions for constitutional reasons: “a single harmonized age for voting […] should be introduced across the Union in order to ensure equality and avoid discrimination”. 

In the absence of agreement among governments, could the young generation take up this cause and ask why they have the right to vote in some parts of the EU, but not in others? Are French 16-year-olds less ready to vote for example than their German counterparts?

Votes at 16 is a bright spot. In Austria, where it exists since 2007, it has been shown to work, encouraging more citizenship education and above-average turnout. Votes at 16 is also possible in Malta and at 17 in Greece. This reform has now spread to Germany and Belgium for the European elections, which makes the call for a harmonised voting age even more justified. A feature of the event on 24 January will be young Austrians transferring their experience to Belgian first-time voters.

There has not been enough input from either existing or new voters about this reform which is being considered in many countries, but below the radar. To encourage more public debate, please express your views for or against votes at 16 by answering the question put by the MobileCIT project↗. We need more votes from across Europe to then bring a representative sample of public opinion to the attention of policy makers.

The event on 24 January is not just a one-off, but an opportunity to involve participants in designing and implementing a follow-up action for a symbolic European vote in front of the European Parliament on 26 April  international voting rights day.


Are you for or against lowering the voting age for European Parliament elections to 16 throughout the EU?

The MobileCIT Project offers background information on this issue, as well as an overview of the arguments for and against. In total, the MobileCIT project proposes 14 carefully selected issues that are characteristic of mobile citizens and that can be solved if EU citizens explicitly express a wish to solve them. 

The article is posted in collaboration with MobileCIT.