Like Germany, Austria and Malta, Belgium is lowering the voting age in European elections.

A voting exercise was organized at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, earlier this year.

A voting exercise was organized at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, earlier this year.

Photo: afp via getty images / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD

“It seems simple at first glance, but in reality, it’s complicated to choose well,” notes Marie when she thinks about the European election in June.

For this student from a college in the Brussels region, the reflection is not only theoretical. Like her dozens of comrades aged 16 or over, she is called to go to the polling stations next month.

Some other European countries, including Germany, have also chosen to lower the voting age by two years for this election.

In Canada, the Liberal government and the conservative official opposition rejected a bill to this effect in 2022, proposed by the New Democratic Party and supported by the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party.

Nicolas, a student at Collège Jean-XXIII, welcomes this change adopted by the Belgian authorities.

We feel a little more responsible at this ageassures this 16-year-old teenager, who says he is especially interested in economic issues.

Ethan, also 16, is less enthusiastic.

: \”Great, I’m going to go vote!\” In any case, I don’t say that to myself”,”text”:”We are not necessarily educated to learn, we don’t necessarily want to. And when there are elections, we don’t say to ourselves: \”Great, I’m going to go vote!\” In any case, I don’t say that to myself”}}”>We are not necessarily educated to learn, we do not necessarily want to. And when there are elections, we don’t say to ourselves: “Great, I’m going to go vote!” In any case, I don’t tell myself thathe says.

It is therefore to better equip these future voters that Collège Jean-XXIII organized a training day in April.

Around tables set up in the school gymnasium, politicians and political journalists spoke with students to enlighten them on their role, the functioning of institutions and the conduct of the elections.

Caroline Désir, the Minister of Education of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation – the French-speaking Belgian community – took part in the exercise and took the opportunity to praise the change in the legal voting age.

The Minister of Education of Wallonia-Brussels, Caroline Désir, speaks with students.

The Minister of Education of Wallonia-Brussels, Caroline Désir, believes that young voters must be interested in European issues.

Photo: Radio-United States / Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair

It seems interesting to us to try to ensure that young people can participate in political life, in the broadest sense of the term, from a very young age. We know that they may be interested in issues that are being played out at the European level. I am obviously thinking of (the) climate question.

A quote from Caroline Désir, Minister of National Education of Wallonia-Brussels

The challenge of engaging young voters

During the day of political workshops, representatives of several Belgian political groups responded to the invitation of Collège Jean-XXIII.

It shows that there is an interestsaid one of the teachers, referring to the appeal of these 270,000 new voters, who only represent 3% of the electorate.

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However, beyond the simple right to vote, reaching young people also represents a challenge in view of the European elections, notes Belgian Socialist Party candidate Dorcas Kayembe Stamili.

In the premises of her training, in the center of Brussels, she shows us different videos produced for social networks like Instagram and Tik Tok, very popular with the generation called to vote for the first time this year.

Dorcas Kayembe Stamili is a candidate in the European elections for the Belgian Socialist Party.

Dorcas Kayembe Stamili is a candidate in the European elections for the Belgian Socialist Party.

Photo: Radio-United States / Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair

(Young voters) have the impression that politics is a question for adults, that it is managed by adults and that they have no say in it.

A quote from Dorcas Kayembe Stamili, candidate for the European elections

This woman in her thirties claims to note the popularity among young people of her colleague and former Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, although he is 72 years old. A success that she explains in part by the broadcast of video capsules in which he addresses the election and European issues.

Indeed, beyond the way of communicating, Ms. Stamili underlines the importance of issues as a source of motivation. Confessing that she only became interested in politics at the age of 23 or 24, she says she wants to talk about issues like the climate and student debt in the current campaign.

A day of political workshops was organized at this Brussels college in April.

A day of political workshops was organized at this Brussels college in April.

Photo: Radio-United States / Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair

At Collège Jean-XIII, Kenza, a 19-year-old student who will learn about the elections in a few weeks, says she herself is interested in environmental and health issues.

I think it’s our generation that will have to endure everything, try to save everything and improve things as much as possible.

A quote from Kenza, a 19-year-old voter

When voting is not a choice

After a day of workshops, Ethan believes he is a little better equipped to vote.

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I don’t know if, when I go home, I’ll be interested in it, but it opens a door, affirms the young man. However, he assures that he will at least find out about the candidates and that he will vote.

Ethan, 16 years old, new voter and student at the Jean XXIII college in Brussels.

Ethan, 16, would like to be better equipped to vote.

Photo: Radio-United States / Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair

In Belgium, voting is not just a right: it is a legal obligation.

A court has also ruled: the duty to go to the polls will also apply to voters aged 16 to 18, although no sanction is provided if they do not show up at the polling station.

Given this obligation, the Belgian experience will therefore perhaps not provide significant information on the influence of granting young people the right to vote on their participation.

However, in Austria, where a reform lowered the voting age to 16 in 2007, experts have generally noted greater participation among younger voters than among those taking part in a vote for the first time from 18 years old.

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