Vote 16

About Vote 16

No man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent.”
Abraham Lincoln

The European Youth Forum calls for the lowering of the voting age to 16 with the provision of civic education being obligatory within the formal education system throughout Europe. The reality that young Europeans now live in has triggered the debate around lowering the voting age to the age of 16.

The right to vote is a key element of participation in democratic processes. Participation in the democratic process is of utmost importance for our society and the right to vote and to be elected are key elements of citizenship.

The voting age is established by law and states a minimum age that a person must attain to be able to vote in democratic elections. In most European countries the legal voting age was 21 when the right to vote was first established. As European society is subject to constant change, evolution and debates that bring new challenges, needs and opportunities – especially for young people – the electoral age was lowered to the age of 18 in most countries.

These changes are ongoing and need a common – pan-European, cross-sectoral, intercultural and intergenerational – sustainable democratic response.

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    Right to democratic participation

    The right to vote is a key element of participation in democratic processes.  It needs to be acknowledged that young people today have greater knowledge of society and are more informed than previous generations.  Only allowing better recognition of the views of young people by giving them a real influence, would encourage them to participate in decision-making processes.

    Studies also show the importance of being socialised in a culture of democratic participation from an early age, outlining that the earlier one is able to participate in elections the more likely it is that one stays active and committed. Additionally it is not to be neglected that due to transition to higher education or transition from education to work, many 18 year-old European first-time voters relocate and face social and financial instability, which delays or stops them from (registering for) voting. Lowering the electoral age to 16 would allow reaching out to first time voters, when placed in a much more stable environment and in a time when they can get accustomed to a culture of participation.

    Last but not least, in most countries, young people below the age of 18 pay taxes when they get a job and can be convicted. In most member states, the age of criminal responsibility is either 14 or 15, but it is even lower in the UK (10), Scotland (12), Ireland (12) and the Netherlands (12). At the same time they are not allowed to vote at elections. Europe thus needs to foster a culture of democratic participation, securing the sustainable democracy and youth participation in democratic decision-making processes. Europe needs to grant young people the rights that fit their duties.

    Democratic deficit

    The divide between the democratic institutions, elected representatives and political parties on the one hand, and the citizens on the other is growing. The disenchantment with politics, the mistrust towards political parties and the complexity of democratic decision-making processes is creating a democratic deficit. That is why decision-makers at all levels need to recognise that sustainable democracy depends on participation of all citizens, especially the younger generation, in democratic decision-making processes, civil society and civil society organisations.

    Numerous surveys show that young people are politically active and knowledgeable and that they do support democracy and the democratic processes. However, the current political system does not keep up with that and, therefore, there are not enough possibilities for young people to participate in. We now have 21st century young citizens and a 20th century political system! Voting at 16 is just one of a raft of measures that are needed to make sure that young people can truly participate in democratic life and that they are able to influence decisions that will define their future.

    Demographic Change

    In a few years from now the composition of voters in Europe will be very different than it is today.  In general, life expectancy is increasing and the proportion of young people in the population is declining. In 2000 12.4% of the population was between the age of 15 and 24 years, whereas the group of 65-90 years made up 16.2%. Eurostat numbers show that in 2020 15-24 years will make up 10.9% of the population and 65-90 years of age will constitute 20.6% of the population.  This is a development that has also been noted in the Green Paper on Demographic Change from 2005. Therefore there is a high need for the establishment of a public political platform in order to improve the intergenerational dialogue and transfer the intergenerational discourse into parliaments, putting youth issues on the political agenda.  Lowering the voting age would contribute to maintaining a demographic balance between generations, because it would force politicians to formulate solid and substantial youth policies by addressing a younger constituency.

    Maturity and knowledge

    Young people are able to act responsibly and to reflect on their own behaviour. From a psychological point of view the moral and cognitive development of young people is completed by the age of 14*. Therefore, young people are capable of knowledge-based decision-making. Scientific studies and analysis of voting behaviour show that young people make informed conscious choices**. Furthermore, it is part of the daily life of young Europeans at the age of 16 to make important decisions regarding their education, living situation and career. As a matter of fact no other age group needs to prove its capability to make informed decision and to participate in democratic elections.

    *Study: Lebensphase Jugend: Eine Einführung in die sozialwissenschaftliche Jugendforschung or Leeb, Guenther/ Seyer, Seifried: Senkung des Wahlalters. Eine Notwendige Diskussion, Linz, 1998

    **Study: Post election study – Austrian Elections 2008 – First time voters aged between 16-18” by SORA (Institute for Social Research and Analysis, the Institute for Strategic Analysis, 2009)

    Voting behaviour

    Data prove that young and first time voters follow mainstream voting patterns, hence turnout of voters aged between 16-18 is comparable to the total electorate. Further analysis of life-long voting experience shows a correlation between early participation and consistent participation in elections. Citizens, also 16 years old, need to be able to cast their vote for legal parties of their choice, like any other electoral group. The voting behaviour of citizens must never affect their basic democratic right to vote. Freedom of choice is a crucial democratic right.  Therefore the argument that young people should not gain the voting rights as they tend to gravitate towards extreme political positions is not only incorrect, but also displays a undemocratic approach.

    The Youth Forum launched a small poll of this age group, focusing on the European elections. Just a few weeks before the elections in May we asked 570 young people how they would vote, if they had the chance to do so and the results were very revealing. They showed that, rather than – as many people argue they would – voting for extreme parties, if young people alone chose the future MEPs, the European Parliament would largely have a similar make-up to the one before.


    The human right to vote

    Young people are knowledgeable and passionate about the world in which they live in, and are as capable of engaging in the democratic system as any other citizen.

    Participation in free elections is a fundamental human right (protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the first protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights). Because of these laws the reasons for excluding people from the vote have to be fair and balanced.

    16 and 17 year-olds are able to raise issues that are affecting them and vote on whether the introduction of a policy would improve their situation for the better.

    Active Citizenship - Citizenship education

    Democratic participation and active citizenship need to be understood as lifelong and life wide learning processes. Citizenship education is essential in order to provide young people with the skills that enable them to make choices, take decisions and assume responsibility for their own lives within a democratic society.  Citizenship education that imparts civic knowledge, explicit facts, and civic skills, as in implicit know-how, is a key element as well as a precondition for democratic participation and active citizenship. Therefore, lowering the voting age to the age of 16 needs to go hand in hand with civic education as subject in the guiding principles for school tasks within the formal education system.

    In order to also allow for a political socialisation and education for those young citizens who – at the age of 16 – are not part of the formal school system anymore, an additional emphasis needs to be put on the importance of non-formal education (NFE) and the essential role of youth organisations in delivering it.


Across Europe

What’s the situation in my country?

Want to know more about the legal situation, the main arguments for lowering to voting age to 16, or a national campaign in your country, or elsewhere in Europe? Then choose a country below and begin exploring the various paths youth organisations are taking across the continent to lower the voting age in elections!


Legal situation – voting age

As the first country in Europe, the vote at 16 was introduced in Austria in 2007 for all local, regional, national and European elections.

Positioning of political parties

The two major political parties – the Austrian People’s Party and the Social Democratic Party of Austria – supported the Vote@16 and agreed on a package of lowering the voting age and allowing the postal vote in 2007.

Youth Councils/Campaigns

The Austrian Bundesjugendvertretung (BJV) have been running an intensive and successful lobbying campaign since 2007, eventually leading to the introduction of Vote@16 in 2007. Right now, the BJV focuses on a campaign promoting the introduction of political/citizenship education in the (non) formal education system.


Legal situation

Voting age: Everyone from the age of 18 is obliged to vote. For referenda, the voting age is 16 (though voting is not obligatory). Referenda at national level are not legal, so they are mostly held on local level.

Regulating legal text: The voting age is regulated by the national Constitution.

Share of 16-17 year olds of the population: No official data available.

Percentage of first-time voters voting in the last elections: Since voting is compulsory in Belgium it should be close to 100%. However, it has to be admitted that the compulsory character of the elections is fading since fines are not strictly imposed. The actual percentage is thus about 90% (for the whole population). The last elections took place on 25 May 2014 for European, federal and regional elections.

Reform of the voting age

A very complex political and juridical process is needed, for the start of which partners in all three communities of Belgium would need to be found. This is not the case yet. On 4 May 2014, the French-speaking Youth Council (Conseil de la Jeunesse) issued its official opinion on Vote@16. While the CJ does not drastically oppose lowering the voting age to 16 it still would like this claim to be part of a more global reflection on young people’s engagement and linked to other measures such as the reinforcement of citizenship education.

Positioning of political parties an the public

A survey carried out by VJR in 2012 showed that young people are not very convinced of Vote@16. However, discussions and arguments noticeably lead to young people re-considering/changing their position.

Some political parties integrated Vote@16 in their electoral programmes. Rather then giving extensive arguments, the positions rely on the core values as well as the mission and vision of the party.


In favour: Groen!, Open VLD

Not in favour: NV-A, Vlaams Belang

No opinion: sp.a, CD&V

French-speaking community:

In favour: MR, FDF, Ecolo

Not in favour: CDH

No opinion: PS


Main arguments in favour:


Main arguments against:


Citizenship education

Officially, citizenship education is obligatory in Belgian schools. However, since it is not a subject on its own but is at the responsibility of the whole school team, it is very often not taught. In the upcoming years, the education system will be reformed, which might bring about new opportunities and solutions in this regard.


Vote@16 campaign in Belgium

In January 2015 an information campaign for schools will be launched, using an educational video in which experts from different backgrounds (political, legal etc.) set out arguments in favour and against Vote@16 given. VJR wants young people to decide for themselves whether they are support Vote@16 or not based on the quality information transmitted through the video. This information campaign shall be the basis/input for VJR to formulate its own position and to start a broad debate on Vote@16 in society.

Run by: VJR – Flemish Youth Council

Contact: Lotta Coenen ( or Lies Roels (

Vote@16: In May 2014 the General Assembly of VJR adopted a position paper on Vote@16 which takes into account all important aspects of lowering the voting age without a final pro or contra position. The document is not used for lobbying so far but rather as a common understanding within VJR and as a background for press communication. The position paper also claims that VJR wants to enhance the debate on Vote@16 in Belgium with all stakeholders. To achieve this VJR established a working group on Vote@16. At the end of October 2014 its members started to build up an information campaign aiming at informing young people, collecting their opinion to help VJR creating a strong position.

Citizenship education: In April 2013 the General Assembly unanimously accepted an advice on citizenship eduction. VJR asks for citizinship education to be integrated in all curricula from a young age onwards in order to prepare young people in a decent way to be active citizens and full members of society. VJR has been lobbying on this and sees some chances with the reorganisation of secondary school in Flanders, but so far there are no concrete results. Hopefully, the implementation of citizenship education in the French-speaking community can help VJR moving forward.


Next steps: VJR: Establishing a clear position and then conceiving/launching the campaign.


Legal situation

Voting age: The current legal voting age in Estonia for local elections is 16 years. For national (parliamentary), local and European elections voting age is 18 years.

Regulating legal text: The voting age is regulated by the Constitution.

Share of 16-17 year olds of the population: Approximately 24 000 inhabitants are 16-17 years old. This amounts to approximately 2,3% of the entire Estonian population.

Percentage of first-time voters voting in the last elections: The last elections held in Estonia were the European Parliament. Overall turnout was 36%. Because elections are anonymous, the National Electoral Committee does not indicate age-based results.

Reform of the voting age

In order to lower the voting age to 16 for local elections, Estonia changed the Constitutional Law.


The right to initiate an amendment of the Constitution rests with not less than one-fifth of the membership of the Riigikogu and with the President of the Republic. The Constitution shall be amended by an Act which has been passed by two successive memberships of the Riigikogu or by the Riigikogu, as a matter of urgency. A bill to amend the Constitution shall be debated for three readings in the Riigikogu, in which the interval between the first and second readings shall be not less than three months, and the interval between the second and third readings shall be not less than one month. The manner in which the Constitution is to be amended shall be decided at the third reading. In order to amend the Constitution by two successive memberships of the Riigikogu, a bill to amend the Constitution must be supported by a majority of the membership of the Riigikogu. If the bill to amend the Constitution which receives the support of the majority of the preceding membership of the Riigikogu is passed by the succeeding Riigikogu, unamended, on its first reading and with a three-fifths majority, then the Constitution Amendment Act is passed. The Constitution Amendment Act shall be proclaimed by the President of the Republic and shall enter into force on the date specified therein, but not earlier than three months from the date of proclamation.

Positioning of political parties an the public

Generally, political parties in Estonia put an emphasis on older people rather than on young people. The Socialist and the Reform parties support Vote@16.

There is no official research about the public’s positioning, but surveys in newspapers and television have shown that the general attitude towards lowering the voting age to 16 is negative (for now).

Main arguments in favour:

Fast urbanization processes, so shaping local policy could be an incentive to return to your local community.

When granted the right to vote at the age of 16, young people feel like full members of the local community.

The theoretical knowledge about citizenship education can be put into practice via Vote@16.

The education system is strong and young people think by themselves/are mature enough to make decisions on their own/independently.

Other countries’ experiences with lowering the voting age to 16 have been positive (Austria, Malta etc.)

16 year olds were formerly allowed to vote in the Estonian Congress elections.


Main arguments against:

At the age of 16 a young person can easily be influenced by others (family, teachers, schools, etc).

At the age of 16 young people are not smart or mature enough to make their own decisions.

At the age of 16 young people are not interested in politics.

Political propaganda will become a problem for schools.

Young people tend to give their vote to extremist parties.


Citizenship education

Citizenship education is an obligatory subject at school, starting from the 6th grade and lasting until 12th grade (10-19 years). The number of hours is specified according to levels I, II and III of the education system. At level I is 0 hours, level II 1 hour and level III 2 hours per week.


Vote@16 campaign in Estonia

The Estonian National Youth Council (ENL) has been lobbying for lowering the voting age to 16 in Estonia since 2007. One of the main characteristics about the campaign has been continuous and consistent lobbying throughout the years as well as being persistent about discussing the positions on lowering the voting age to politicians, experts and other target groups. Lowering the voting age has been an actively debated subject in Estonian society in 2012 and 2014.

Run by: Estonian National Youth Council

Contact: Estonian National Youth Council, Estonia pst 5a, 10143,, +(372) 55621364, Triin Bõstrov, Vice-Chairman of the Board of the Estonian National Youth Council

Campaign website: (only in Estonian)

Vote@16: ENL has lobbied for lowering the voting age to 16 since 2007. A bill to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 in local elections in Estonia was submitted to the Estonian Parliament on 1 July 2014.

Citizenship education: ENL wants civic education to become more practical, rather than theoretical. This is why ENL established a close link between citizenship education and lowering the voting age to 16. The first is the basis for understanding social and political issues more efficiently. The importance of citizenship education is also added to ENL’s official documents.

Next steps: The main challenge is to get all the votes necessary in order to pass the bill at the Parliament in order to implement Vote@16. The process is now the hands of the politicians.


Legal situation – voting age

The voting age is at 18 for elections at all levels. To change this, the Parliament needs to approve a respective reform.

The Lutheran church allows the vote at 16 for its internal elections.

Positioning of political parties

The political parties are so far rather defavourable to lowering the voting age.

Youth Councils/Campaigns

Allianssi is in favour of lowering the voting age to 16 and will launch its campaign in November 2014. Allianssi has organised youth mock elections, a web-based candidate matcher and has worked on different documents about civic education.


Legal situation – voting age

The voting age in Germany for national elections and in most part also for local and regional elections is at 18.

Some regions have however introduced the vote at 16 for local/communal elections: these are Lower Saxony (1996), Schleswig-Holstein, Sachsen-Anhalt, Northrhine-Westphalia, Pommerania, Brandenburg, Bremen, City of Hamburg. In Baden-Wurttemberg, 16 year olds could vote for the first time in the communcal elections on the 25 May 2014.

Positioning of political parties

Youth Councils/Campaigns



Legal situation – voting age

The voting age is at 18 for parliament elections and 25 for the election of the senate.

Positioning of political parties

Youth Councils/Campaigns

Vote@16 is a priority of Italy’s National Youth Council (FNG – Forum Nazionale Giovani). There is no active campaign yet though FNG considers launching one.


Legal situation – voting age

The voting age in Ireland is 18. To change this, a positive national referendum is required.

Lowering of the voting age to 16 or 17 was discussed and approved at the Constitutional Convention in early 2013, which forwarded a recommendation to the Irish Government.

In July 2013 the Irish Government announced a probable referendum on the matter in spring/summer 2015.

Positioning of political parties

The three major parties support Vote@16 in Ireland.

Youth Councils/Campaigns

The campaign on Vote@16 is run by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) since 2012.

Website: or

United Kingdom

Legal situation – voting age

In the biggest part of the UK the voting age is at 18.

The islands of Jersey, Guernesey and the Isle of Man apply the vote@16 already. In Scotland, the vote@16 was for the first time applied for the independence referendum in September 2014 with a turnout around 90% among the 16-17 year olds.

A backbench motion to lower the voting age to 16 was passed in the House of Commons in January 2014 by 119 against 46.

Positioning of political parties

A network of supportive politicians (namely MPs) has been created, most of which are ere.Labour or LibDem. A full list can be accessed here.

The Labour party is also in favour of having a Vote@16 system in place by 2016 for mayoral elections.

Youth Councils/Campaigns

Since 2003, the “Votes at 16” campaign is run by the British Youth Council (BYC), that coordinates the coalition in favour of the Vote@16 (students unions, political parties, Scouts, etc.). The aim is to achieve a legislative change.


The European level

European society is subject to constant change, evolution and debates that bring new challenges, needs and opportunities, especially for young people. These changes need a common – pan-European, cross-sectoral, intercultural and intergenerational – sustainable democratic response. A crucial part of this response is European Citizenship. European citizenship is one of the priorities on the EU agenda at present. The Maastricht treaty gave the concept of European citizenship a treaty base by explicitly granting civil and political rights such as freedom of movement, the right to vote in European Parliament elections, the right to diplomatic protection and the right to petition the European Parliament. The Amsterdam and the Lisbon treaties went further in specifying these rights and further responsibilities of the Union in this context.

The Lisbon Treaty specifically gave the EU the competence to take measures to increase youth participation in Europe. However, “European citizenship” is not merely EU citizenship. The concept goes beyond the borders of the EU. The Council of Europe (CoE) has developed a strong and well-grounded discourse on European citizenship by focusing on aspects related to democratic citizenship, including democratic and human rights values and principles as well as the development, promotion, and protection of democracy and the rule of law.

In order to strengthen European citizenship and our democracy in Europe, the key message put forward by the European Youth Forum and its Member Organisations is that youth must be taken seriously and be offered real influence. 16-year-old European citizens are mature enough to participate in the political decision-making process, by casting their vote for legal parties of their choice. It is evident that sustainable policy development in an ageing Europe requires the inclusion of the perspectives of young people. Also young people should have rights that fit their duties in European society – therefore the Youth Forum is calling for lowering the voting age to the age of 16.


    The European Union

    The Parliament of the European Union is the only Institution in the European Union that is directly elected by European citizens. The electoral procedures for the elections to the European Parliament are regulated at both the European (defining the rules common to all Member States) and national level (national legislation defining specific national provisions that vary from one state to another).

    The right to vote and to stand as candidate in elections to the European Parliament – so far – is subject to the same conditions as for national elections in the respective EU country of residence. Hence big procedural differences still exist between the Member States.

    The adoption of Vote at 16 in Member States cannot be proposed at the European level. Building on article 22 TFEU, at European level, there could be a process started to introduce vote at 16 at European Parliament elections, through the adoption of a uniform electoral procedure. This procedure is detailed by article 223 TFEU, and the initiative is with the Parliament and Council.

    Together with its Member Organisations, the European Youth Forum ran a campaign to lower the voting age to 16 in 2012. It highlighted a Written Declaration of the European Parliament, which – although the required majority for adoption was finally not obtained – was supported by 177 Members of the EP from across the political groups. Also, a paragraph on lowering the voting age to 16 for the European Parliament elections was included in a report tabled by MEP Andrew Duff on European Parliament electoral rules. The paragraph was eventually taken out in cross-party negotiations.

    Hence, even if a 16 year old Austrian – and any other young European from one of the Member States officially registered in Austria – can vote at elections for the European Parliament in Austria and even if there are campaigns in several Member States, there is currently no legislation on, or political document speaking for or against lowering the electoral age for elections to the European Parliament.

    The European Youth Forum maintains its dialogue and cooperation with the MEPs and other partners on Vote@16. We encourage the elected Members of the European Parliament to take a stand, and elaborate publicly on their position on lowering the electoral age to the age of 16 and citizenship education towards the European Institutions and European citizens.

    The Council of Europe

    The Council of Europe, has called upon its 47 member states to start to start the process towards lowering the electoral age to the age of 16. Once again it has established itself as a pioneer in the area of youth policy. On June 23rd 2011 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted the Resolution 1826 (2011) “Expansion of democracy by lowering the voting age to 16”. In this, the Assembly calls upon national governments to:

    – create the necessary preconditions for the participation of young people in civic life through education and the promotion of community involvement;

    – investigate the possibility of lowering the voting age to 16 years in all countries and for all kinds of elections;

    – examine the possibility of lowering the minimum age of eligibility to stand for different kinds of elections (local and regional bodies, parliament, senate, presidency) wherever this would seem appropriate.

    The European Youth Forum encourages national governments and the European Union to hear the call of the Council of Europe and work towards lowering the electoral age to the age of 16!

European Youth Forum AISBL

Rue de l’Industrie 10, 1000 Brussels

Tel.: +32 2 793 75 20
Fax : +32 2 893 25 80

With the support of
The European Commission
The European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe