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Coalition set to cut Estonia's voting age in European Parliament elections

Polling place during the 2019 European Parliament elections.
Polling place during the 2019 European Parliament elections. Source: ERR

A bill is ready that would reduce the voting age in Estonia for European Parliament elections. The procedure for the Riigikogu is more complex, however, and will take more time.

The goal of the ruling Reform-Eesti 200-SDE government coalition is to reduce the voting age to 16 in all of Estonia's elections. This was already done for the country's local government elections nearly a decade ago; now it's the European Parliament elections' turn.

"The bill is ready, and it's already been negotiated in the coalition," said MP Hendrik Terras (Eesti 200), chair of the Constitutional Committee of the Riigikogu. "But before we move forward with it, we'll discuss it with the opposition parties as well. I understand some parties there may be interested in supporting it as well, so then we could move forward with the broadest consensus possible."

It is important to note here that even if the Riigikogu should decide within the coming months to reduce the voting age, it nonetheless wouldn't yet apply to this June's European Parliament elections.

"Voting rules have to be in place half a year or even a year ahead of elections," said Terras. "We won't be able to make it this time, but then young people would have the opportunity to vote next time, in 2029 already."

The coalition parties are also seeking cross-Riigikogu consensus for extending voting rights in Riigikogu elections to 16- and 17-year-olds as well. As this would require a constitutional amendment, however, the procedures involved are different and more time-consuming.

"As that must be approved by two successive compositions of the Riigikogu, then that timeframe isn't as critical," the committee chair explained. "First we'll initiate public debate with the European Parliament Election Act, and then from there we'll move on to the Constitution."

Reducing the voting age for the European Parliament elections only requires the amendment of the relevant election law, meaning that the process is handled in the Riigikogu like any other bill.

Currently, the only opposition party to have expressed support for the plan is the Center Party. The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) believes that young folks are too impressionable, and thus don't support lowering the voting age.

Political scientist Alar Kilp believes that Eesti 200 and the Social Democrats would stand to gain the most from a reduction in voting age, noting that their ratings are often twice as high in the youngest age group as their overall ratings.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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