Though youth participation is not a core competence of the European Union, the EU institutions (including the European Parliament) are nonetheless tasked with ‘supporting, coordinating or supplementing the actions of the member states’. They are mandated by Article 165 of the treaties to ‘encourage the participation of young people in democratic life in Europe’. So, while the EP cannot pass binding legislation in this area like national parliaments, it must instead support initiatives, make recommendations to the Member States and look to improve how young people engage with the EU institutions themselves.
During the current mandate, the European Parliament has made certain progress on youth participation, but needs to keep pushing this topic in the lead up to the 2019 elections. The 2016 European Youth Event (EYE) provided young people with an opportunity to discuss directly the Parliament’s work, but the overall buy-in from MEPs was low and must improve. In a positive step, the EP officially backed a voting age of 16 for the first time ever, recommending that Member States trial the measure to engage young voters. It also adopted two important positions emphasising the importance of comprehensive, well-funded education systems, and affirmed the importance of critical skills as a precursor to active citizenship and participation from young people.
Reform of the electoral law of the EU - Amendment to remove vote at 16
300 votes required to pass.
In November 2015, the European Parliament voted on a legislative initiative resolution to reform EU elections. The overall report recommended that EU Member States consider a voting age of 16, but an amendment (Am. 44) sought to remove this recommendation. Am. 44 was defeated by a narrow margin of 323-276 votes, and thus the European Parliament officially supported vote at 16 for the first time.
Interestingly, while the overall report was drafted by co-rapporteurs Hübner (EPP, PL) and Leinen (S&D, GE), MEP Hübner later submitted Am. 44 that would have removed the vote at 16 recommendation. Given that MEP Hübner co-authored the report (backing V16) and voted in plenary to keep the V16 recommendation in place, it is likely that this amendment was somewhat of a compromise within her own political group – the European People’s Party (EPP) largely do not support a lower voting age, and it enabled her colleagues to vote to remove it from the report if they wished. While a small number of EPP MEPs (26 including MEP Hübner) voted to support vote at 16, the vast majority of their party colleagues (158) attempted to remove the recommendation.
'Ward Report' on intercultural dialogue, cultural diversity and education
351 votes required to pass.
The ‘Ward Report’ on intercultural dialogue, cultural diversity and education (submitted by MEP Julie Ward, S&D, UK) was supported by a majority of MEPs, passing by a strong margin of 554-147 votes. The report was largely backed by the European Parliament’s biggest groups: EPP, S&D, Greens/EFA, ALDE, and GUE-NGL. The smaller ECR, ENF and EFDD groups were mostly against the motion.
Lower voting age
Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
In the current parliament, MEP Julie Ward has continually demonstrated strong leadership on youth participation. Through authoring or contributing to reports, engaging directly with youth organisations, involvement in the European Youth Event, and votes in plenary, she has consistently sought to make youth participation a priority. This has included an emphasis citizenship education and critical thinking, as well as an important focus on the impact that poverty, social inclusion and gender can have on participation.