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A year ahead: Belgium lowers voting age to 16 for the European elections

A young boy looks at posters promoting the "yes" and "no" votes in France's May 29 referendum on the European Union constitution, in Tours, France, May 24, 2005.
A young boy looks at posters promoting the "yes" and "no" votes in France's May 29 referendum on the European Union constitution, in Tours, France, May 24, 2005. Copyright AP Photo/Franck Prevel
Copyright AP Photo/Franck Prevel
By Méabh Mc MahonElly Laliberte
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Belgium and Germany have joined Austria, Greece and Malta in allowing 16 and 17-year-old to vote in the European elections.

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The 2024 European Parliament elections will have a new age group going to the polls in Belgium.

Teenagers will be taking time out of the classroom to cast their ballot and decide who should sit in the European Parliament for the next five years and co-legislate on various issues from the economy to climate change. 

Lowering the age restrictions adds 270,000 young people in Belgium to the voting pool.

Lauren Mason, a policy and advocacy manager for the European Youth Forum believes this is a key step to youth engagement. She is delighted but feels even more needs to be done to make young people feel heard.

“If we need young people to feel truly engaged in our democracies that means having more young people in political parties, having more young people in positions of political power, and having young people's opinions taken seriously in our politics,” said Mason.

Voting in Belgium is mandatory so 16 and 17-year-olds that register to vote will be obliged by law to follow through. The European Parliament hopes they will mobilise more than in the past.

“Young people voted less than average,"  said Jaume Duch, the European Parliament spokesperson, adding that first-time voters aged 18 to 25 tend to vote less on average. 

Euronews spoke to one Belgian schoolgoer who is excited for this opportunity. “I think it's a really good idea because it means that we can actually change what we want to change. And so the matters that we find important, we can actually have a voice and so vote for parties or people that we think will carry these values,” said 16-year-old Alexis Macrae.

Previous EU elections show voter turnout among youth is dismally low. Now the goal is to change this tendency. And with the European election just one year away on the horizon, only time will tell if allowing teens to vote will help voter turnout.

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