Event Conference on Challenges of Votes at 16 for EU Citizens living in Belgium

Conference on Challenges of Votes at 16 for EU Citizens living in Belgium

Date(s) - 19/09/2023
14:00 - 19:30

Press Club Brussels Europe




2.00pm–7.30pm on Tuesday 19 September 2023

Press Club Brussels Europe – 95 Rue Froissart 1040 Brussels

The focus will be on votes at 16 and the political rights attached to freedom of movement in the European elections. Belgium is innovating and taking the lead in European democratic reform having lowered the voting age to 16 in the European elections following Austria, Malta and Greece (from 17). This means involving a new cohort of 270,000 voters, who will be able to vote in the European elections on 9 June 2024.

How to reach these first-time voters and motivate them? Can first-time EU citizen voters who would be denied this right in their country of origin spread the word? Could this be a spark to ignite extension of the franchise throughout Europe? Germany is also introducing votes at 16 in the next European elections. If the main focus of this conference will be on first-time voters, it will not be exclusively on this group.

Before the event begins, there will be an informal discussion at 12.30 p.m. between young Austrians explaining to a group of young Belgians what voting at 16 means. To set the scene, there will be an interview with Joachim Wilcke, assistant to MEP Damian Boeselager, who is rapporteur on the rights of mobile EU citizens to vote and stand in European elections.

The event will be in two parts:

  1. Messages to Europe. The first part in the afternoon will focus on the preparations for the 2024 European elections and the measures needed to increase turnout especially among young mobile EU citizens living and working in Brussels. Could extending the franchise to 16-year-olds be a trigger?  What are their main concerns? Since the EU Institutions are based in Brussels and are also a major employer of EU citizens, they should be involved. In this way, whilst focussing on Brussels the event can also be relevant for the EU more generally.
  2. Messages from Europe. The second part will take the form of an open Meeting of the Cross-Party Group of MEPs on European Citizenship. The main purpose of this meeting involving rapporteurs in the European Parliament on electoral rights will be to examine the follow up to votes in the Parliament in May 2022 for a European electoral act and in February 2023 for reform of the directives on the rights to vote and stand in municipal and European elections in one’s country of residence. A key theme in the absence of agreements in the Council in time for the 2024 elections will be on how to keep up the momentum for democratic reform and what individual countries such as Belgium can do, which has followed the demand of the European Parliament to lower the voting age.

Registration at the link here


  • 2.00 pm – Welcome and introduction to the MobileCIT project

      Chair: Tony Venables, founder of ECIT

Speakers: Gatis Pavils, Project Manager, Alina Ostling, Researcher.

Presentation of the Open Vote website and results of the MobileCIT research. The participants will be introduced to the questions and how to vote. One of the questions will be about lowering the voting age to 16. 

  • 3.00 pm – Introduction to plans for votes at 16 and the European elections generally in Brussels with particular emphasis on how to reach these first-time voters and mobile EU citizens

Speakers: Guillaume Defossé, Federal MP, Ecolo-Groen; Bryn Watkins, Office Commissioner for Europe; Marie-Helene Boulanger, Acting Director European Commission; Els Gossé, Deputy Mayor of Ixelles Responsible for EU Affairs; Franziska Schweitzer, young Austrian voter

  • 4.30 pm – Brainstorming debate with the participants

What are the main concerns of young people and different communities  of EU citizens in Brussels and how to represent these concerns in the European elections ?

Facilitators: Dorin Fleseriu, Rombel (TBC); Daniela Vancic, Democracy Int. (TBC)

What proposals for improving information and removing obstacles to registering to vote should be introduced ?

Facilitators:  Charlotte Verbecke, Ixelles; Population department of Etterbeek

Could the right to vote from 16 lead to other proposals to extend the franchise and reforms to increase turnout?

Facilitators: Alvaro Oleart, ECIT Board member, Elina Pinto, ETTW

  • 5.30 p.m – Break out groups and preparation of conclusions / questions to put to MEPs
  • 6.00 p.m – Open Meeting of the Cross-Party Group of MEPs on EU Citizenship

The meeting will be public and will take the form of an informal dialogue between participants in the MobileCIT event and MEPs.



This is a valuable opportunity for first time and young voters to engage with an impressive line of speakers involved with the June 2024 European elections at local, regional, national and European level. To attend please register here

The central feature of the programme will be the decision by Belgium to introduce votes at 16 for the first time in the 2024 European Elections. There are new developments in putting the legislation in place. This is therefore an ideal time for questions and suggestions. Votes at 16 will not be the only issue. It is connected inevitably with that of how to increase turnout among EU citizens generally.

Before the conference starts, there will be an interview about the European Parliament’s proposals for votes at 16 and the revision of the EU law on the right to vote and stand in the European elections. This will set the scene for a dialogue between young Austrians who already have the right to vote at 16 with young Belgians about to acquire the right.

Although Votes at 16 is very much on the agenda, little is known about its actual practice. A short background note can be found here

Three main questions will be explored;

-Can young people themselves help spread the reform to allow more young people to vote from the few countries which have introduced this right to the majority which have not? What role could be played by  ECIT, Voters Without Borders and civil society more generally in the run-up to the next European elections?

-Can this reform encourage more people to make use of their right to vote? In the 2019 European Elections only 9.6% of European citizens registered to vote in Belgium and a further 20% may have voted in their country of origin-well below the 50% average turnout

-Can votes at 16 as the bright spot encourage other electoral reforms ? This question is relevant at a time when proposals to make elections to the EU Parliament more European appear blocked. Is more attention being paid to protecting democracy from outside threats than to strengthening it from within?

The meeting is open to the press at any time.  For journalists interested we would recommend the panel at 3 p.m and the final session, and the dialogue with MEPs on the conclusions.