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EU parliamentary election: There will be 16-year-old voters in Germany and Belgium

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The European Union is holding its parliamentary election this week. The results will help shape the direction of the EU for the next five years, but there's something different this time - 16-year-olds are eligible to vote in Germany and Belgium. Those two countries join a growing list that have lowered the voting age from 18. To learn more, our colleague A Martínez spoke with Pawel Zerka, with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

So first off, tell us about the decision to lower the voting age below 18. Why now?

PAWEL ZERKA: So it makes sense, because when you are 16, you already have some obligations - so, for example, if you work, you need to pay taxes - you already have the right to take some medical decisions or to enter a marriage or a civil partnership; then why shouldn't be that accompanied with the right to vote? The second reason which I can see is that European population is getting older, so there is a risk that if mostly old people vote in elections, then also they choose parties that defend the priorities representative for the older population, whereas the younger voters do not get their representation at the political level.

And I think that this poses a certain democratic problem, because actually, it's the younger voters who will live longer with the consequences of the political choices that are taken today. And I think that some people with a more pro-European outlook might have thought that if there is danger of Europe moving increasingly towards far-right and anti-European positions, then younger voters, who tend to be more pro-European, should be an easy way to boost the share of votes on the pro-European parties.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. How excited are the teenagers, 16- and 17-year-olds, to be able to participate in this way? Have you heard any reaction to this lowering of the voting age?

ZERKA: We know that the young voters are much less likely to participate in elections than the older ones - although, five years ago, in European elections, younger voters have beaten their record of participation, so many people hope that also this time, they could actually prove to be more eager to vote than is usually assumed.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, what difference do you think that lowering the voting age might have on the elections? Will there be something that we'll notice?

ZERKA: Symbolically, it's a very important event, because it shows that younger people and their voice is treated seriously, and I believe that after Germany, and those couple of other countries where already the voting age is lower, perhaps some other countries in Europe would also follow the suit.

MARTÍNEZ: Could it be about tapping into the energy of someone who's 16 or 17 years old? I mean, I can imagine that someone that has wanted to vote - they're going to be very energetic, possibly, to get out there and be involved and participate in discussion.

ZERKA: Maybe. Maybe Europe, which is getting older, is looking for that new energy that the younger voters can represent, but yeah. I think that in a way, the lowering of the vote could also be an encouragement for those people who are over 18, but still young - they could understand this move as a way to show that young people are important, and therefore, maybe they themselves would also be more eager to go out and vote in the election.

MARTÍNEZ: That is Pawel Zerka. He's senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you very much.

ZERKA: Many thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
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