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New proposal calls for voting rights for 16-year-olds in Belgium

Illustration picture shows the election lists at a polling station in Koekelberg, Brussels, Sunday 26 May 2019. (BELGA PHOTO HATIM KAGHAT)
07:56 07/04/2021

The Greens and Flemish liberal-democrat party Open VLD have jointly tabled a bill to introduce the right for Belgians from the age of 16 to vote in the European elections, starting from 2024.

The joint bill, which has also gained the support of Georges-Louis Bouchez, the president of the MR party, was finalised in the federal coalition agreement at the end of last year and aims to “restore confidence in politics and to ensure that the concerns of young people are given more weight in decision-making.”

The bill was tabled by Green Party politicians Guillaume Defossé and Kristof Calvo, and Egbert Lachaert and Patrick Dewael from the Open VLD. “Extending the right to vote can only strengthen our democracy,” the parliamentarians said in a joint statement. “This is a long-standing claim for the environmentalists and the Open VLD. The granting of the right to vote from the age of 16 in the European elections is the first step in this direction.”

The proposed change would only be made to the voting rights for the European elections as this requires a simple majority, whereas a two-thirds majority is needed to alter the voting age for the federal elections, as the constitution must be changed to do so.

Defossé said that the bill is a strong commitment to "the younger generations who have proven more than once, in recent years, their incredible capacity to mobilise and their interest in the public sphere.”

“The sooner we reach agreement, the sooner we can reconnect young people with the political world," he added.

For his part, Georges-Louis Bouchez said, via Twitter, that his MR party "will enthusiastically support this proposal”.

“Europe is the challenge of the future and this future belongs to young people,” he added. “Integrating them more strongly into the debate will allow for the necessary reforms."

Ahmed Laaouej, the leader of the Socialist Party in the chamber, said that he and his colleagues would support the proposal but only if parallel progress is made on other initiatives in the coalition agreement, such as those in the field of citizenship and democracy and especially the fight against fake news.

In his view, lowering the voting age must also be accompanied by the obligation to vote from the age of 16, as it is imposed on other citizens.

Written by Nick Amies