Wednesday

17th Jan 2018

Opinion

#FreeInterrail: saving Europe by travelling

  • A free train pass would tackle several deep problems at once: the rise of nationalism, lack of trust in the EU, a divided and disconnected young generation. (Photo: Ruben Bos)

Everything started with a quick idea back in the spring of 2014. We were on an Interrail journey through 14 European countries to interview young people on their perspectives on Europe, politics, and their own futures.

After several weeks, we arrived in Vienna and met up with essayist Robert Menasse for dinner. At that dinner table, we talked about how this travelling experience had changed our view of Europe and its people.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Both of us had been fervent Europeans before – or so we thought. In fact, we realised that only by travelling Europe and meeting young people from different backgrounds, we truly came to understand and appreciate Europe in all its beauty and diversity.

We had turned from Europeans in theory to Europeans from experience.

The three of us came up with an idea: why doesn’t the European Commission hand out Interrail passes to all EU youth for free?

In the summer of 2015, a year later, the EU seemed to be at its all-time low. Tensions between Germany and Greece were unbearable, we all witnessed the return of nationalistic rhetoric. Additionally, the question on how to take care of refugees divided the EU and called into question the very idea of Schengen, one of the EU’s most prominent features.

We also noticed how disconnected our generation felt from those in Brussels. Many of our friends across Europe shared with us how disillusioned they were with the EU and all their focus on banks and currencies.

Make mobility a right

Worse, our generation showed clear symptoms of an internal rift: there were those who had access to Europe and all its benefits of travelling and international experiences; and there were those, who did not have that access.

These young people felt disconnected, left alone, and, in their frustration, turned increasingly to populist and anti-European parties.

Could free Interrail passes be the solution to these European problems? The basic idea: every EU citizen receives a personal letter from the European Commission upon turning 18.

This letter includes a voucher for a one-month-Interrail pass, to be used within the next six years. The voucher could be turned in for a pass at any train station. We believe that this idea, we called it #FreeInterrail, has three major advantages.

First, it would increase youth mobility and lower access to it. Currently, many young people do not travel much or at all and have no connection to the EU.

Erasmus is a wonderful programme that benefited EU youth in giving them a perspective on Europe. However, Erasmus only reaches a small percentage of all youth. A little bit more then three million students have participated since 1987, yet there are 190 million people under the age of 30 in the EU.

#FreeInterrail would make mobility a right for all EU citizens, independent of financial or national backgrounds.

Second, sending youth travelling is the best protection against nationalism and divisive ideologies. By travelling, youth would explore Europe with their own eyes, make friends in other countries, and learn about the beauty of diversity. This would increase awareness of what the EU is all about: its people.

Reconnecting EU youth with the EU itself

By having practical experience in foreign countries and by meeting people of different backgrounds from their own, young travellers would understand the inherent similarities. S/he who travels does not set fire to refugee homes or vote for (semi-) fascist parties.

Third, #FreeInterrail would (re)connect EU youth with the EU itself. Already the experience of receiving a personalised letter from the European Commission would be life-changing for young adults. "We are part of your life and we care about you," it would say.

While before EU youth had to approach the EU if they wanted to participate in exchange programmes, now the EU proactively engages its youth and opens a door to Europe for them.

These benefits may be the biggest and most obvious ones, but clearly there are more: by raising youth mobility, one would also raise youth labour mobility and help to integrate young people into job markets across the EU.

Also, #FreeInterrail could be connected to other programs, such as the European Voluntary Services, Erasmus, and many others. Schools across the continent could prepare their students for their Interrail trips. Young would travel in groups or on their own.

It seems worthwhile to consider building a couch-surfing network around #FreeInterrail so that young people could stay with other (former) #FreeInterrailers for free and deepen friendships and personal connections.

The cost? Every year roughly 5.5 million EU citizens turn 18. An Interrail Global Pass costs €479. If every young person would use them, this would cost around €2.6 billion a year.

EU Parliament initiative

The Erasmus budget ranks similar per year, and that would be less than two percent of the EU's current budget. The effects would easily outweigh the costs, as it tackles several deep problems at once: the rise of nationalism, lack of trust in the EU, a divided and disconnect young generation.

#FreeInterrail has started to catch fire: In February, we started working with MEPs Istvan Ujhelyi (S&D), Rebecca Harms and Michael Cramer (Greens), and Gesine Meissner (Liberals), who formed an initiative in the European Parliament that seeks to get approval for a pilot project on #FreeInterrail.

Just recently, the head of the EPP group Manfred Weber proposed it on the floor of the European Parliament. Shortly after, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi voiced his support for the idea.

More work needs to be done. We all have to work together to make this idea a reality for Europe's youth and future.

Vincent-Immanuel Herr (27) and Martin Speer (30) have done research on European youth for several years. Their work has been supported by a variety of foundations, including Stiftung Mercator, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Schwarzkopf Stiftung, and others.

Ten Commandments to overcome the EU's many crises

A series of missteps - from the faulty institutional infrastructure of the euro, to the migration crisis - have left the EU battered and in near crisis. Here are ten steps to re-democratise the union.

EU's 'old men' must pressure Poland on abortion rights

Despite fresh crackdowns on Poland's already restrictive abortion laws, EU commission president Juncker did not raise the issue with the new Polish PM Morawiecki - perhaps because it was an all-male event?

The overlooked past of the 'next PM of Greece'

Kyriakos Mitsotakis is the likely next prime minister of Greece. But most media abroad have ignored his wife's exposure in the Paradise Papers, his Siemens gifts, and his party's former advisor's fine for tax avoidance.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  2. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  3. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  4. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  5. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  6. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted
  7. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  8. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  9. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  10. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  11. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  12. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology

Latest News

  1. Ombudsman asks ECB chief to quit secret bankers group
  2. Polish MEP backed by 'spam' emails in Nazi-jibe row
  3. Macron eyes France-UK border agreement
  4. Catalonia prepares for rule by Skype
  5. Post-Brexit trade roll-over not automatic, EU paper says
  6. Oettinger pushes plastic tax but colleagues express doubts
  7. MEPs target exports of cyber surveillance tech
  8. Kosovo killing halts EU talks in Brussels

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  2. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  4. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  6. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  7. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  8. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  9. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  10. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  11. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  12. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  2. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  3. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  4. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  5. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  6. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  7. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  8. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  9. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaPresident Sargsyan Joined EuFoA Honorary Council Inaugural Meeting
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics