Youth and the European Citizens' Initiative: an opportunity for the EU
Brussels wants to improve the European Citizens' Initiative. The Parliament, the Commission and the Council are on board, though not fully in agreement. Not lowering the minimum age from 18 to 16 would be a missed opportunity for the EU. But there is still resistance from the Council.
The European Union likes to talk of a "Europe of Citizens", though it struggles with directly involving citizens in policy-making. The current negotiations demonstrate that the Parliament, the Commission and the Council want to improve the citizens' initiative. Otherwise there is a risk that citizens may use it less and less and that it will become obsolete.
Importantly: the Commission, supported by the European Parliament and many civil society organisations, proposed lowering the minimum age for supporting citizens' initiatives from 18 to 16 years. This seemingly small step could make a big difference. However, the Council still shows resistance. This is because the ECI regulation links the minimum age for supporters to the active voting-age in European elections. This is not a binding principle though. There is a lot to be said in favour of extending the ECI to people not yet allowed to vote.
The citizens' initiative from the age of 16 - an opportunity for the EU
If you want to make the European Union more citizen-friendly and counteract EU scepticism, you should increase youth-involvement. EU surveys show that young EU citizens are firm supporters of the European idea. On the other hand, voter turnout among young people has declined dramatically in European elections. This makes it all the more important that the EU addresses this challenge. Reducing the ECI's age of support from 18 to 16 could be a first step.
Not voting but getting involved. A gateway towards political participation
Research shows that the ECI fulfils the participation needs of young EU citizens. Traditional, long-term practices of political participation, for example through party membership and associations, are less and less appealing to young people.
Young people are not apolitical; they get involved on their own terms. Hence, the European Citizens' Initiative is a perfect fit. It is digital, accessible, and provides the opportunity to support a specific political cause.
As a democratic instrument, the ECI is one of a kind. It has a low threshold and provides a non-binding form of participation for putting an issue on the political agenda. It can broaden the public dialogue and raise interest in politics and political participation.
Raising interest in politics early on pays off
In general, an increased interest in politics leads to greater political participation. Vice-versa: the right to participate can generate political interest. Furthermore, people who participated once are much more likely to get involved again. The right to participate in a European Citizens' Initiative has the potential to increase interest in European politics as a whole as well as in European parliamentary elections in the long run.
"From several examples we know: The opportunity to actively participate can turn indifferent observers into active participants. The EU can and should learn from this," says Dominik Hierlemann, participation expert of the Bertelsmann Stiftung and co-author of the study.