European Parliament backs right for 16 & 17 year olds to vote

European Parliament backs right for 16 & 17 year olds to vote

The European Parliament officially endorsed a voting age of 16 for European Parliament elections, and asked member states to consider the proposal. 

This is a big victory for youth organisations across Europe, including the European Youth Forum, which have for many years been campaigning for a lowering of the voting age across Europe.

The European Parliament passed a joint report from MEPs Jo Leinen (S&D) and Danuta Hübner (EPP) on reforming EU electoral law and voted 323 to 276 in favour of giving votes to 16 and 17 years olds.  As well as lowering the voting age to 16, the report included a broad package of proposals, which included electronic voting and voting rights for EU citizens living abroad.

The report states that vote at 16 “would be highly desirable as a means of providing Union citizens with real voting equality, and would enable discrimination to be avoided in the most fundamental area of citizenship, namely the right to participate in the democratic process.” As such, it “recommends to Member States that they should consider ways to harmonise the minimum age of voters at 16.”

The European Youth Forum is delighted by this significant recommendation from the European Parliament, which highlights the increasing support for voting at 16 in the EU. Lowering the voting age or not will, however, be down to national governments, and the European Parliament can only make non-binding recommendations to Member States on this issue. The European Youth Forum, therefore, calls on EU countries to follow the European Parliament’s lead and give young people their democratic right to make their voice heard at an earlier age.

There has been recent progress and discussions are underway on vote at 16 in several EU countries, including Ireland (where a referendum is planned); the UK (16 year olds voted in the Scottish independence referendum, and discussions are underway about a possibility of extending the vote in next year’s referendum on the EU); and in Estonia the constitution was recently amended to allow votes at 16.

The European Youth Forum strongly believes that giving the vote to 16 and 17 year olds would empower them and truly engage young people in the democratic process from an early age. Paired with comprehensive citizenship education in schools, vote at 16 can help instill a habit of voting at a younger age and boost lifelong participation rates.

The right to vote is a major part of the democratic process and is a key recommendation of the Youth Forum’s recently launched #YouthUp campaign, which aims to rethink politics to engage and include young people: