The three parties in the process of forming the next German coalition government are locked in tense negotiations over the future of European power. But on a seemingly radical issue, they are united: lowering the voting age to 16.
Business-friendly Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) have pledged to reduce the age at which Germans can vote to 18, acknowledging that an increasingly politicized generation of young people must have a say in how the country is run.
If their plan comes to fruition, Germany would join Austria, the Isle of Man and Guernsey as the only other places in Western Europe with such a low voting age. Scotland also allows 16-year-olds to vote, but not in UK parliamentary elections. In a handful of German states this has also been allowed recently, but only at local and regional level.
Such a nationwide move could also pave the way for other countries to follow the continent’s largest economy.
A poll ahead of Germany’s election last month showed young people were frustrated at not being able to vote in an election seen as a turning point and dominated by the over-50s, who made up the majority – 60% – of voters. Only 14% of voters were under 30, compared to 19% in 1961.
The Fridays for Future movement led by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg is credited with contributing to heightened political awareness among young people which has impacted the main left parties in particular. The coronavirus pandemic, with all its social, educational and economic consequences, would also have helped to shake things up.
The Greens and the FDP in particular, who obtained the most votes among young people, stressed the importance of capturing their political enthusiasm.
In a widely cited poll by environmental NGO Nabu, 59% of voters over 65 said ahead of the September 26 vote that they would not consider the interests of young voters in climate protection when it comes to climate protection. ‘they would vote.
In a subsequent mock election of over 200,000 young people across Germany held just over a week before the actual election, 21% of participants voted for the Greens, which was interpreted as an indication that the party might have received much more than the 15% it got in the official election if the voting age had been lower.
The last time an adjustment to the voting age in Germany was made was 50 years ago, when it was reduced from 21 to 18.
But even if the policy already appears in black and white on page 10 of the provisional agreement drawn up by the parties called upon to form the âtraffic lightsâ coalition – so named because of the colors of the parties – in which it is described as “Belonging to the realization of a modern democracy”, it still faces a series of difficult obstacles.
The voting age is fixed in article 38, paragraph 16 of the German constitution. Any attempt to change it requires a change in the constitution, for which a three-quarters majority in parliament is required. The future ruling coalition would need to gain the support of other parliamentary factions to make this happen. If he can rely on the voices of the left Die Linke, that would not be enough. The far-right Alternative fÃ¼r Deutschland (AfD) is completely opposed to the idea and the conservative CDU / CSU alliance is largely opposed to it.
Even as recently as May, when the Greens and the FDP proposed a change in the law on the issue, the SPD voted against, which was seen as an effort to keep intact its increasingly strained partnership with conservatives.
Thorsten Frei, deputy leader of the CDU parliamentary group, said this week that he was “very skeptical” about lowering the age and did not think conservative parliamentarians could be seduced. “Without a doubt, there are a lot of young people with a strong political interest,” he told the Neue OsnabrÃ¼cker Zeitung newspaper. “But rights and obligations must be aligned, and the question is whether it makes sense, on the one hand, to be able to participate in decision-making about the future of our country, but on the other hand, not being able to sign a mobile phone contract or watch certain films at the cinema without parental permission? I have my doubts. “
However, in the midst of declining support, the party may also be forced to change course.
In the 1960s, the last time the issue was heavily debated and voiced in student protests, military service played a big part in the debate. It has been argued that if young people were to defend their country, they could not be denied the right to vote, paving the way for a law change in the early 1970s.
Even if the new government does not immediately succeed in its plans, political analysts and observers are convinced that it will only be a matter of time before public opinion brings about a change which the Greens, the SPD and the FDP would seek to take credit for themselves.
Michael Weigl, a political scientist at the University of Passau, recently told Bavarian Broadcasting: âMany young people do not feel that politics is decided according to their interests. And that in itself is of course already a sign that something needs to change.
âI think we will soon have 16 years to vote. “