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YouthWiki

EACEA National Policies Platform
Germany

Germany

5. Participation

5.2 Youth participation in representative democracy

Last update: 4 January 2023
On this page
  1. Young people as voters
  2. Young people as political representatives

Young people as voters

Active right to vote: age of eligibility (who can vote)

The right to vote is the most powerful form of political participation. People in Germany have been allowed to vote at the age of 18 since 1972 – it was previously 21. Lowering the active voting age to 16 for elections to the European Parliament and the German Bundestag is one of the central pledges of the Federal Government in the 20th legislative period.

  • European elections: 18 years
  • German parliament (Deutscher Bundestag) elections: 18 years
  • Overview of state and local elections:
    State (Bundesland)State election (Landtagswahl) (Voting age in years)Local election (Kommunalwahl) (Voting age in years)
    Baden-Württemberg16 (since April 2022)16
    Bavaria1818
    Berlin1816
    Brandenburg1616
    Bremen1616
    Hamburg1616
    Hesse1818
    Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania16 (since November 2022)16
    Lower Saxony1816
    North Rhine-Westphalia1816
    Rhineland Palatinate1818
    Saarland1818
    Saxony1818
    Saxony-Anhalt1816
    Schleswig-Holstein1616
    Thuringia1816
 

In Lower Saxony, a motion for a resolution (Parliamentary Paper 18/8718) by the parliamentary group Bündnis 90/Die Grünen is under parliamentary discussion in 2022, which proposes lowering the age limit for the right to vote in elections to the state parliament (Landtag) and in local elections to 14 years.

All persons aged 18 and over who are eligible to vote on the polling day and who have lived at a registered address within the constituency for at least three months (in the case of multiple residences the primary place of residence applies) or who otherwise live in the constituency are entitled to vote in national referenda and popular initiatives in accordance with Article 29(6) of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (Grundgesetz). In Germany, the only referenda and popular initiatives held at national level relate to the restructuring of federal territory, i.e. the aggregation or division of federal states. Citizens are not permitted to petition for referenda on matters of federal policy.

By contrast, citizens can vote on topical issues at state (Länder) level in all 16 federal states. State laws govern the voting processes. These laws are different in each state. The voting age for participation in popular initiatives (Volksinitiativen; known as Volksanträge in Saxony) and referenda is different in each state. For example, in Brandenburg and Berlin the minimum voting age is 16, while in Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia the minimum age is 18.

 
Voter turnout in the European elections in 2019

 

Voter turnout in Germany broken down by age group, in %*

 

Total

18-20 age group

21-24 age group

25-29 age group

Germany

61.4

58.6

56.0

54.0

 

Voter turnout in the German parliament (Deutscher Bundestag) elections in 2021

 

Voter turnout in Germany broken down by age group, in %*

 

Total

18-20 age group

21-24 age group

25-29 age group

Germany

76.6

70.5

71.2

72.4

 
Voter turnout in the state parliament (Landtag) elections

The intervals between each state parliament election – and therefore the legislative period of the respective state government – vary from federal state to federal state in Germany. Therefore it is not possible to provide any aggregate-level figures.

Voter turnout in the local elections

As of the end of 2018, Germany had approx. 11,000 boroughs (Gemeinden). The frequency of local elections in Germany varies from federal state to federal state, as does the term of office of the elected individuals. It is therefore impossible to contrast voter turnout in local elections with national turnout in a German parliament (Deutscher Bundestag) election.

Exclusion from voting

Section 13 no. 1 of the Federal Elections Act (Bundeswahlgesetz, BWahlG) says who is excluded from the right to vote. This includes persons excluded from the right to vote on the basis of a judge's ruling, persons who require permanent care, and persons in psychiatric hospitals as a result of illegal activity (Section 63 German Criminal Code [Strafgesetzbuch, StGB].

Young people as political representatives

Members of political parties

Section 21 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland, GG) provides the basis for the law on political parties (Gesetz über die politischen Parteien). Section 21 says that parties participate in the formation of the political will of the people.

Each party or party political youth organisation has articles of association that lay down the specific rules on membership (including the minimum age). Examples:

  • Christian Democratic Union of Germany (Christlich-Demokratische Union Deutschlands, CDU): The minimum age for party membership in Germany is 16 years.
    • Young Christian Democrats of Germany (JUNGE UNION Deutschlands, JU): JU members must be at least 14; membership lapses automatically upon turning 35.
  • Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD): The minimum age for party membership is 14 years.
    • Party of Young Socialists in the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Jungsozialistinnen und Jungsozialisten in der SPD, Jusos): Jusos engages young people aged 14 to 35.

Article 83(1) Sentence 2 of Book VIII of the Social Code (Sozialgesetzbuch, SGB VIII) addresses funding for the youth organisations of political parties that carry out supra-regional youth work.

Passive right to vote: age of eligibility (who can be elected)
  • European elections: 18 years (regulated in the European Elections Act [Europawahlgesetz])
  • German parliament (Deutscher Bundestag) elections: 18 years (regulated in the German Basic Law [Grundgesetz, GG])
  • State parliament elections: 18 years (regulated in the state electoral regulations (Landeswahlordnungen) and state electoral laws (Landeswahlgesetze)
  • Local elections: 18 years (regulated in the local electoral regulations [Kommunalwahlordnungen] and local electoral laws [Kommunalwahlgesetze])

Young people cannot stand for election as Federal President (Bundespräsident). Candidates must be at least 40 years of age.

Representatives elected in the 2021 German Parliament (Deutscher Bundestag) elections -  age distribution as of October 2022

Age in years

Total mandates in %

Women in %Men in %
70 or older1,77-1,77
65-693,941,092,85
60-6410,333,536,79
55-5915,354,6210,73
50-5416,35,4310,87
45-4915,764,2111,55
40-4413,456,117,34
35-3910,054,625,43
30-347,882,994,89
25-294,892,172,72
18-240,270,140,14
Total100,0034,9265,08

Average age of all members of the German Bundestag at the start of the legislative period: 47.

Representatives elected in the state parliament (Landtag) elections

Federal state (Land) (election year)

Totalmandates

Ø age

Mandates18-29 age group

Baden-Wurttemberg (2016)

143

approx. 55 yrs.

5

Bavaria (2018)

205

approx. 51 yrs.

7

Berlin (2016)

160

approx. 47 yrs.

2

Brandenburg (2019)

88

approx. 49 yrs.

1

Bremen (2019) 

84

approx. 48 yrs.

3

Hamburg (2015)

123

approx. 54 yrs.

11

Hesse (2019)

137

approx. 50 yrs.

2

Mecklenburg-West Pomerania (2016)

71

approx. 49 yrs.

6

Lower Saxony (2017)

137

approx. 51 yrs.

3

North Rhine-Westphalia (2017)

237

approx. 48 yrs.

6

Rhineland-Palatinate (2016)

101

approx. 51 yrs.

3

Saarland (2017)

51

approx. 50 yrs.

2

Saxony (2019)

126

approx. 50 yrs.

3

Saxony-Anhalt (2016)

87

approx. 47 yrs.

6

Schleswig-Holstein (2017)

69

approx. 51 yrs.1

Thuringia (2019)

90

approx. 47 yrs.

6

 
Local elections

As of the end of 2018, Germany had approx. 11,000 boroughs (Gemeinden). It is therefore impossible to give an overview of all of the young borough representatives elected.