12 RECOMMENDATIONS IN-DEPTH: #9 Lower the age of ECI support to 16

April 29, 2015 News

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This is the fourth in a series of articles taking an in-depth look at each of The ECI Campaign’s 12 recommendations for building “An ECI That Works!” We’re starting with issues that need further explanation and/or greater visibility, not addressing them in numerical order.

#9 Lower the age of ECI support to 16

The ECI is tailor-made to involve youth in EU policy and build their EU identity. It’s issue-specific, can happen online, brings ordinary people together across borders and gives people with no power a voice in Brussels. When youth can be personally involved in an EU issue, through supporting an ECI, it can enhance their civic engagement in the EU for life. The EU is missing a fantastic opportunity to create new active EU citizens by not allowing 16 and 17 year olds right across the EU to support ECIs!

There is no reason in the EU Treaties for the age of ECI support to be tied to that of voting in EU elections, as it is currently. If the ECI had the legal impact of a binding referendum or a similarly powerful national citizens’ initiative, this would be justified. But it does not. The ECI is only advisory. It does not directly change law. There are no age limits for comparable rights of EU citizenship, such as petitioning the European Parliament. Why, in all countries except Austria, artificially limit ECIs to citizens aged 18 and over?

We therefore recommend that Article 3.4 of the ECI Regulation 211/2011 be modified to separate the minimum age of ECI support from that of European Parliament elections. It should instead be set at age 16 for citizens of all EU Member States.

Governments in developed countries are increasingly seeking formal ways to involve youth aged 16 and 17 in public life – e.g., by lowering voting ages for municipal elections and key national referendums. Austria allows 16 year olds to vote in all elections, as well as support ECIs. Research has shown that an individual’s first formal political experience has a life-long impact on their civic engagement. Youth are most likely to participate, and have a positive experience, when supported by civic education in school or parents to do so. For many Europeans, this kind of support ends at age 18.

The ECI has clearly captured the imagination of Europe’s youth. Many ECIs have been led by people in their 20s and address issues important to youth, such as education, employment and the environment. Many politicians welcome the perspective of youth in shaping the EU’s future. The EU even funds programmes to support this. ECI campaigns have demonstrated that the ECI can help build EU identity and overcome national divisions. For all these reasons, the European Youth Forum and the AEGEE-Europe students’ forum are strong advocates for the ECI overall, as well as lowering the age of support to 16.

Most Member States would only need to make minor changes to their ECI procedures were the age of ECI support to be lowered to 16. When the ECI Regulation was drafted, it was assumed that all countries would use electoral registries to verify signatures. In practice, most countries instead use population registries — which list citizens of all ages.

The EU as a whole would benefit tremendously by lowering the age of ECI support to age 16. Not only would it gain the unique perspective of young people, but it would help to create new generations of active EU citizens. There are no compelling legal or practical reasons to continue to tie the age of ECI support to the voting age. The ECI is a right of citizenship that should be available to all EU citizens starting at age 16.

For research on the benefits of formally involving youth in civic life starting at age 16, see this short paper from the European Youth Forum.