The term ‘democracy’, like the term ‘Europe’, disguises a wealth of variation. Representative democracy, at a minimum, implies the chance for every adult to vote periodically (see Box 6.1) in order to help choose and hold accountable those who legislate and govern on their behalf. This form of democracy came to Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But the process was far from complete before it was set back for decades, first, by authoritarian dictatorships which began in the 1930s and, second, by the 40 years of communist rule in east-central Europe which followed the Second World War. In France, Italy, Belgium and Greece, for instance, women won the vote only in the wake of that conflict; in most parts of Europe, they won it just before or not long after the First World War, although in Switzerland they had to wait – almost unbelievably – until 1971. On the other hand, in all European countries, the age at which people become entitled to vote (though not to stand as candidates) now matches the age at which they legally become adults, with the sole exception of Austria which, after passing legislation in 2007, now allows people to vote from the age of sixteen – an experiment that seems not to have produced spectacular or surprising results, perhaps, disappointing both those who thought it would be a triumph and those who predicted disaster (see Wagner et al., 2012). There is more variation, however, surrounding the participation of citizens living overseas.
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