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EACEA National Policies Platform
Germany

Germany

5. Participation

5.10 Current debates and reforms

Last update: 4 January 2023
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  1. Forthcoming policy developments
  2. Ongoing debates

Forthcoming policy developments

Lowering of the voting age

There are repeated calls to reduce the voting age to 16 or to better orient participation processes to younger age groups and specific target groups. Some federal states (Länder) have now lowered the legal voting age to 16: Baden-Württemberg, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein. There are also plans to do so in North Rhine-Westphalia, Berlin and Lower Saxony. More and more local authorities are now also lowering the voting age in local elections to 16. In federal and European elections, the legal voting age is still 18. In the coalition agreement for the current legislative period of the German Parliament (Bundestag) 2021 to 2025 between SPD, Bündnis90/Die Grünen and FDP, it was stated that the aim is to lower the voting age for elections to the European Parliament to 16. Furthermore, there is to be an amendment to the Basic Law, requiring a 2/3 majority in the German Parliament, to lower the active voting age for elections to the Bundestag to 16. In addition, it is intended to make it easier for Germans living abroad to exercise their right to vote (Coalition Agreement 2021, p. 12).

Children's rights in the Basic Law

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has applied in Germany for 30 years in the form of a so-called simple federal law. In order to lend more legal weight to the issue of children’s rights, it has repeatedly been suggested that they be mainstreamed in the Basic Law, i.e. that they be given constitutional status. After an initial – and highly controversial – draft failed in the last legislative period, the current Coalition Agreement again makes a provision to mainstream children’s rights in the Basic Law. The coalition is seeking to present a draft law on this and at the same time develop monitoring of implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Coalition Agreement 2021, p. 98).

Implementation of the Independent Youth Policy

The policy approach of an Independent Youth Policy evolved from a broad discourse on youth policy between civil society and politics and has been pursued and further developed over a number of years by the Federal Youth Ministry (Bundesjugendministerium, BMFSFJ). With the development and implementation of the Youth Strategy during the 19th legislative period, the Independent Youth Policy has become the common basis of the entire federal government. The federal government's Youth Strategy aims to enable young people to influence all decisions that affect them, giving them the best tools available to overcome the challenges of early adulthood. The focal point of the federal government's Youth Strategy is "Shared responsibility: a policy for, with and by young people" (In gemeinsamer Verantwortung: Politik für, mit und von Jugend). It is directed at young people aged from 12 to 27. The cross-sectoral approach is the result of systematically implementing the principles defined in the Independent Youth Policy, which is oriented to the concerns of young people. The approach combines ministry-specific expertise with an integrated view of early adulthood. In the 20th legislative period, this approach will be continued and further developed with a National Action Plan for Child and Youth Participation.

 

Ongoing debates

As in all European countries, public life in Germany was severely curtailed in 2020 and again in 2021 in the context of very high numbers of COVID-19 infections. Of crucial importance for children and young people were the closures of schools, kindergartens and all extracurric-ular child and youth services, as well as the suspension of all non-digital opportunities for par-ticipation. Attention was repeatedly drawn to the fact that young people played no role in the processes that decided which pandemic measures were appropriate and that their interests and concerns were given only marginal consideration (cf. Federal Youth Advisory Board (Bundesjugendkuratorium), May 2021). All in all, this has led to renewed and more intensive discussion of the topic of participation – especially in crisis conditions.

In November 2019 the Federal Youth Board (Bundesjugendkuratorium, BJK) published its opinion in the following document Young people in policy consulting. Recommendations for greater federal participation by the young generation (Junge Menschen in der Politikberatung. Empfehlungen für mehr Beteiligung der jungen Generation auf Bundesebene). In it, experts make recommendations as to how young people, with their concerns and interests, could be more closely and permanently integrated into federal policy consultation processes. The expert panel is particularly in favour of sustainable infrastructure, quality standards, differentiated monitoring and age-appropriate formats.

The Child and Youth Welfare Association (Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kinder- und Jugendhilfe, AGJ) is a forum and federal network of alliances, organisations and institutions active in the field of non-statutory and open-door youth work in Germany. AGJ's 100 members take joint action in the area of youth and specialised policy communication and cooperation at federal level, as well as in a European and international context, and form a specialised policy network in the AGJ's six member groups:

  • federal youth associations and youth councils (Landesjugendringe),
  • federal umbrella associations for non-statutory welfare organisations,
  • federal government youth services organisations,
  • supreme youth and family authorities in the federal states (Länder),
  • federal working committee for state youth welfare offices (Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Landesjugendämter),
  • federal associations and organisations active in HR and training (vocational training and continuing professional development).

AGJ regularly publishes position papers and discussion papers on child and youth (services) policy. Papers include:

Various agents have responded by putting forward their views, comments and recommendations on lowering the voting age:

Other current debates centre on:

  • whether youth participation is seen as a regular element of citizens’ participation and what influence young people can have on citizens’ participation processes;
  • how the potential of open data and digital tools can be used to promote youth participation; see also demokratielabore.de;
  • the use of new technologies to promote youth participation, e.g., virtual reality and augmented reality applications (for instance, 360° videos in the context of urban planning projects).