Vote at 16 in Malta: next stop Europe

Luis Alvarado Martinez

Luis Alvarado Martinez is the President of the European Youth Forum (EYF, 2018)

European Youth Insights is a platform provided by the European Youth Forum and the European Sting, to allow young people to air their views on issues that matter to them. The following article is written by Mr Luis Alvarado Martinez,  President of the European Youth Forum, the biggest umbrella youth organisation in Europe and the world.

“Ask not how politics will influence young people – instead ask how young people can influence politics.”

While this might not be exactly the wording of Kennedy’s famous quote, it was certainly this powerful approach that led Malta to become the 2nd European country to lower the voting age to 16 for all levels of elections just last month.

This is a massive success for youth rights. But the thing is, not everyone is happy about it.

It seems bizarre that while on one hand our elected leaders complain about the lack of involvement of young people in politics, they simultaneously on the other block one of the key ways to truly involve them.

There are numerous arguments as to the benefits of lowering the legal voting age to sixteen. Young people are already by this age knowledgeable, engaged and active in their communities. Combined with quality citizenship education, introducing young people to the process of voting and participating in democratic systems can make them more likely to continue on this path throughout their lifetime. At the age of sixteen, young people can already be part of the workforce and independently making decisions. Yet somehow, their opinion is often not considered to be valid in politics.

Lowering the voting age is not a new concept. Throughout our history, our democratic systems have been evolving. Always striving to become more inclusive, representative and fair. How then, can there such opposition to ensuring that both young and old have their opinions heard?

Granting the right to vote is much more than just a legal step. It is also symbolic of the acknowledgement of citizenship and shared responsibility for current and future issues.

Young people have the biggest stake of all in the decisions that are made on our behalf. Yet so many young people are denied a say issues that impact our lives. Young people are the generation most likely to be at risk of poverty and social exclusion. We are on the frontline when it comes to cuts in public services and austerity measures.

But there are signs of change. More and more countries are starting to see the benefits of lowering the voting age. While Austria has already celebrated ten years of including sixteen and seventeen year olds in elections, Estonia has also recently followed suit by lowering the voting age to sixteen in all local elections. In Scotland, young people had the opportunity to vote in the independence referendum sparking a surge in political engagement across the country. The conversation is also ongoing in Wales for local elections – we will be watching this space!

The disengaged youth myth Youth organisations and young people are leading the way to change. The recent vote in Malta could not have happened without the work and strong resolution of KNZ – the Maltese National Youth Council. In Ireland, despite the Bill to lower the voting age to 16 being blocked in the Seanad, the campaign is also far from over. As pointed out by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI), it is not a matter of if it will happen, but when.

The fact is that this injection of young voices into our political systems is long overdue. For too long we have been excluded and faced barriers to participation. Not only with voting, but in all aspects of political life. If the Bill in Ireland had passed, it would have allowed over 126,000 young people to vote. A huge, important boost to not only to Irish democracy but to Europe as a whole.

The countdown is already on for the next European Parliament elections next year. We are the most pro-European generation. Imagine if we included the voices of thousands of young people with their fresh perspectives and determination to build a strong European continent together. It would be the ultimate game changer for the future of Europe.

The movement to include young people in elections from an earlier age and therefore establish stronger, more inclusive democracies is unstoppable.

Is vote at 16 beneficial for society? Yes. Are sixteen and seventeen year-olds entitled to have a stake in their future? Absolutely.  We’ve taken another great step forward with Malta. Now we need the rest of Europe to move forward with us!

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