5.10 Current debates and reforms
The lowering of the voting age remains a hot issue in Flanders (See 5.10). In May 2016 the Flemish Youth Council voted an opinion pro-voting 16. Most of the Flemish political parties ((the green party ‘Groen’, the socialist party ‘SP.A’, the liberal party ‘Open VLD’, the Christian democrats CD&V ) hold a positive opinion on the introduction of voting rights – not voting obligation as is now the case for Belgians from the age of 18 - at 16 years. On July 15, 2015 a number of party members of Groen and Ecolo (Groen is the Flemish green party, Ecolo the French green party) submitted a bill to lower the voting age for the European, federal, regional and local elections to 16 years. The right wing parties (Flemish nationalist party N-VA and Vlaams Belang) still oppose voting rights at 16 has not taken a clear stand. At 10 december 2019 SP.A and Groen submitted a motion for a decision concerning voting rights from the age of 16 in which the Flemish Government is asked to take the necessary measures to ensure that young people from the age of 16 are entitled to vote in the municipal and provincial elections in 2024. However, the motion was rejected in the plenary: 28 members voted in favor (all representatives of SP.A and Groen), 85 members voted against and 1 member of the liberal party abstained.
On 21 October 2021 the Council of Ministers of the federal government decided that young people from the age of 16 will be allowed to vote at the next European elections in 2024. At the moment, this is still a preliminary draft that has to approved by the parliament. Once the parliament has approved the amendment, an estimated 270,000 Belgian young people between the ages of 16 and 18 will be able to vote in the European elections. Belgium is the fourth country, after Austria, Greece and Malta, to meet the European Union's request to give young people aged 16 and over the chance to vote. Now, the right to vote starts at the age of 18. The Flemish Youth Council sees the lowering of the voting age for European elections as only a first step towards an expansion that should also take place at the federal, regional and local level.
The voice of young people regarding COVID-19 measures
Certainly during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, children and young people were not heard about their experiences and worries regarding COVID-19 and associated measures. Already in May 2020, the Children's Rights Commissioner wrote an advice regarding the lack of a child perspective in tackling the corona crisis. The advice stated that the right to participation of children and young people was barely given attention in the many decisions and asked the ministers to make extra efforts to guarantee children's rights. In the outlining of measures, children and young people’s voice had to be heard in addition to that of economists or education specialists, for example. Also the Flemish Youth Council and other youth representative bodies addressed that the voice of children and young people was completely missing during the first months.
To raise the voice of young people the Children's Rights Commissioner, the Children's Rights Coalition and the Children's Rights Knowledge Center organized an online survey among 8 to 17-year-olds. In this survey children and young people were asked about their opinions and feelings regarding the corona pandemic and measures. Children and young people made themselves heard in droves and completed the online survey with more than 44.000: 17.000 children under the age of 12 and 27.000 plus 12-year-olds.
In later months steps were taken to incorporate more the young people’s perspective in decisions regarding corona, but young people still feel that their perspective is insufficiently weighed against other interests.