Vienna - Austria's Council of Ministers on Wednesday agreed to bring forward a law allowing 16-year-olds to vote in national elections.

The change is included in a larger legislative package that the country's parliament is expected to approve before the summer recess. It would also introduce absentee ballots and extend the country's legislative period from four to five years.

The minimum voting age is already 16 for some local elections in Austria, but for general elections it is 18. Austria would be the first country in the European Union to lower the voting age across the board.

"I think it's a very important step forward to strengthen communication with young people and to include them as early as possible in the political education process," Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, a Social Democrat, told reporters.

The plan has met with differing opinions in Austria. While some welcome it, others think 16-year-olds are not sufficiently interested or mature enough to have a say in national affairs.

Peter Filzmaier, a respected Austrian political commentator, told the Austria Press Agency that simply lowering the voting age was "too little" and noted the need for broadening political education in schools.

Fritz Plasser, another political scientist, said he was surprised at the government's speed in trying to implement the change and expressed concern that politicians may not have thought the issue through sufficiently.

"It's presumably ... a step too soon," APA quoted him as saying.

In Europe, and around the world, the voting age is usually 18. Countries that allow voting at 16 include Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua and the Isle of Man, a British dependency in the Irish Sea.

The next general elections in Austria are expected in 2010. - Sapa-AP