Five Star Movement leader Grillo wants 16-year-olds to get the vote

"We need to let young people become the driving force for innovation in Italy," said the leader of Italy's anti-establishment party in a blog post promising to campaign to give 16-year-olds the vote.

Five Star Movement leader Grillo wants 16-year-olds to get the vote
Beppe Grillo gives a speech. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The Five Star Movement “will fight to guarantee them full political rights from the age of 16”, Beppe Grillo wrote on his blog.

Italy's voting age is 18, but rises to 25 for Senate elections, something Grillo said was “an intolerable anachronism”.

Politicians are currently working on a new electoral law ahead of elections which must take place by next spring, meaning it's the perfect time to make such adjustments to the law. And Grillo's not the first to have had the idea: the ruling Democratic Party proposed a bill to lower the voting age in Senate elections to 18 in January this year.

Due to Italy's perfect bicameral system, all laws need to get the approval of the Senate as well as the Chamber of Deputies before they can pass, which is one of the reasons key bills – on everything from criminalizing torture to legalizing civil unions – often end up in parliamentary gridlock.

The party make-up of each house tends to vary significantly, a factor which is likely affected by the average age of voters. 

Italy is home to Europe's oldest population due to a falling birthrate, meaning that both the median age and the proportion of over-65-year-olds are above the European average. This means the older generation already has a stronger voice, simply because Italy is home to more old people than young – and with under-25's excluded from voting for the Senate, the issue is exacerbated.

More than four million Italians, or eight percent of the population, are aged between 18 and 24, “and so their votes count less”, according to Grillo.

He drew a link between this disenfranchisement and the disproportionately high levels of youth unemployment (currently around 35 percent) and youth poverty in Italy.

Last year, for the first time, the millennial generation became the poorest in the country, data from Caritas showed. Meanwhile, social spending for the elderly is significantly higher than for any other age group, with most of the country's welfare budget going on pensions.

While there is likely to be plenty of public support for extending votes for the Senate to under-24-year-olds, the question of giving Italy's approximately one million 16-17-year-olds the vote will be more controversial.

Across the rest of Europe, the voting age is 16 in Austria, the Isle of Man, some German states and one Swiss canton.

So where do Italy's other parties stand on the issue?

The far-right Northern League's Matteo Salvini has also suggested extending the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds, saying the age group is “more informed and involved today than they used to be”.

Meanwhile, the ruling Democratic Party has allowed 16-year-olds to vote in party primaries since 2007, and during his successful campaign to be re-elected as party leader, ex-PM Matteo Renzi raised the possibility of lowering the national voting age to 16.

“And I don't say that in my own interest, since we lost the referendum to the youth vote,” he said, referring to the unsuccessful referendum on changes to Italy's constitution last December, on which Renzi had staked his own leadership.

Those reforms would have seen the Senate totally reformed, stripping it of most of its powers to block and amend legislation and appointing fewer senators, rather than having elections.

While the proposals didn't win the support of Italy's young adults, it's possible that giving them the right to vote in Senate elections would be a more popular policy.


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Italy’s government proposes bill to make surrogacy a ‘universal crime’

Italy’s parliament is set to debate a bill that would expand criminal penalties for the use of surrogacy, in what opponents say is part of a broader attack on gay rights by the country’s hard-right government.

Italy's government proposes bill to make surrogacy a 'universal crime'

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is lead signatory on the new bill, which would make surrogacy – already a crime in Italy – a criminal act for Italians who make use of the practice anywhere in the world.

The motion combines previous draft laws from the ruling Brothers of Italy, Forza Italia and League parties, and will be debated in the lower house from Wednesday, according to news agency Ansa.

The move comes days after the government ordered the city of Milan to stop issuing birth certificates to the children of same-sex couples on the grounds that the practice violates Italian law.

READ ALSO: Milan stops recognising children born to same-sex couples

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has long been outspoken against surrogacy, which she has described as “a commodification of women’s bodies and of human life.”

In a heated parliamentary debate on the rights of same sex couples on Monday, her Brothers of Italy colleague Federico Mollicone, chair of the lower house’s Culture Committee, said surrogacy was “more serious than paedophilia.”

Similar comments were made in 2017 by a minister of the now-defunct New Centre Right party, who likened entering into a surrogacy arrangement to committing a sex crime.

READ ALSO: ‘Surrogacy is like a sex crime’: Italy minister

In early 2022, as leader of the Brothers of Italy party in opposition to Mario Draghi’s coalition government, Meloni put forward the same motion to make surrogacy a “universal crime”.

The text was adopted by the Justice Committee of the former legislature – a preliminary step before it can be debated in the lower house – last April, but did not go further at the time.

The crime of surrogacy in Italy is currently punishable with a prison sentence of over three years or a fine of between 600,000 and one million euros; penalties that the government is proposing to extend to all Italian citizens who engage in the practice, regardless of where it occurs.

Whether such a law would even be possible to pass or enforce is unclear, and legal experts have dismissed it as impractical. 

“There are no conditions that would justify an expansion of penal intervention of this type,” Marco Pelissero, a professor of criminal law at the University of Turin, told L’Espresso newspaper.

The idea of a universal crime “does not even exist in the legal language,” he said.

But the proposal has aroused fears that, if passed, the law could result in large numbers of same-sex parents whose children were born via surrogates being sent to prison.

“With this law we would be exposing families with young children to criminal law, quite simply criminalising procreative choices made abroad in countries where these practices are regulated,” Angelo Schillaci, a professor of Comparative Public Law at La Sapienza University, told the news site Fanpage.

‘We are aware of how hard this government is working to strip even the most basic rights from same-sex-parent families,” Alessia Crocini, head of the Rainbow Families organisation, said last week when it was first announced that Milan had been banned from registering the children of gay couples.

The move resulted in large-scale protests across the city on Saturday, and Milan Mayor Beppe Sala has pledged to fight the change.

“It is an obvious step backwards from a political and social point of view,” he said in a recent podcast interview.

On Tuesday, European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders commented that European Union member states are required by EU law to recognise the children of same-sex couples.

“In line with the LGBTIQ equality strategy for 2020-2025, the Commission is in continuous dialogue with Member States regarding the implementation of the judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union.”

“This also includes the obligation for Member States to recognise” children “of same-sex parents, for the purpose of exercising the rights conferred by the EU”, Reynders reportedly said in response to question about the developments in Milan.