Boost EU election voting? Lower voting age say MEPS

European elections posters in 2019. PhotoL Dutch News

EU countries should consider lowering the voting age and the minimum age for standing as candidates to encourage participation in the European elections next year, an EU parliament committee has said. The election will take place between 6 and 9 June 2024.

Discussion has now started in Brussels on how to ensure participation, especially among EU citizens who live abroad, young people, disadvantaged groups and electors from rural areas, who are usually less likely to vote.

While voting procedures are decided at the national level, on Wednesday the European Parliament constitutional affairs committee passed a resolution demanding efforts to increase voter turnout.

In particular, MEPs said EU countries should consider “aligning and lowering the voting age and the minimum age for standing as a candidate”. The voting age is currently 16 in Austria, Belgium, Germany and Malta, 17 in Greece, and 18 in the other EU countries.

Voters abroad

Another target group are EU citizens living abroad, whose electoral rights are still “hampered by unjustified barriers to democratic participation, including the lack of awareness regarding conditions and rules,” MEPs said.

In 2019 just 12% of the 490,000 EU nationals in the Netherlands registered to vote and many across the country said they did not have information about the need to do so from their local authority.

EU citizens living in other countries of the European Union can choose to vote for a candidate in their country of origin or in the constituency where they live, but they cannot vote twice. Authorities can thus impose extra registration requirements to avoid double voting.

MEPs also called on EU countries to allow EU citizens living outside the EU to vote, as this is not currently the case for all.

European elections posters from 2019. Photo: Dutch News

Other recommendations to ensure participation are the introduction of postal voting, which is already available in the Netherlands, and better accessibility, for instance using assistive technologies, Braille, QR codes, large print, audio-based information, and sign language communication.

‘More European’ debate

EU citizens also need to know more about the work of the European institutions and take part in a ‘more European’ debate rather than focus on purely national discussions, MEPs argued. They also called for a clear procedure to elect the commission president after the elections.

National political parties should also make the logos of their European political affiliation visible on ballots, they said.

The report drafted by Spanish MEP Domènec Ruiz Devesa and German MEP Sven Simon is expected to be endorsed by the parliament in November.

Deeper reforms

Last year the European Parliament proposed a revision of EU rules on the European elections, which contain common principles that member states must follow. Proposals included the creation of a pan-European constituency with candidates from transnational lists. The European Council, which represents EU governments, however, has not started talks on this.

At a two-day conference on the European elections this week in Brussels, transparency commissioner Věra Jourová said the commission will make further recommendations to member states in a “defense of democracy” package presented by the end of the year.

She also suggested voting procedures should be modernised given that young people are “used to do everything online”.

Increasing turnout

Next year EU citizens will elect 720 members of the European parliament, up 15 on the current total because of demographic changes. The Netherlands will gain two seats, reaching 31.

The last European elections, in 2019, recorded a significant increase in the number of voters, with 51% of those eligible people going to the polls, compared to 42% in 2014. In the Netherlands, the proportion was 42% compared to 37% in 2014.

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