Would you like to receive a birthday card from the EU? Perhaps not the most exciting birthday present in the world, true… but what if the card contained a 1-month rail ticket that let you travel across Europe for free? Now that’s a bit more interesting.

This summer, the European Commission (responding to a request from the European Parliament) has forked out €12 million euros to distribute 15,000 rail passes to 18-year-olds from across Europe. With a single Interrail ticket, recipients can travel through up to 30 different European countries.

First launched in 1972, the Interrail pass was designed specifically for young European travellers. It is now used by more than 250,000 people each year (of all ages). The passes are available to citizens and official residents of EU countries (as well as some neighbouring countries) and the price is discounted for travellers aged 27 or younger.

Supporters of free tickets for young people see it as an investment. They hope to encourage mobility and a sense of common identity, with young Europeans using their tickets to travel and experience the rich culture, history, and geography of the continent. Critics, however, see it as a waste of money and (even worse) a transparent attempt to buy the support of young people.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from João, who personally feels a strong sense of European identity. João believes his “Europeanness” has been fostered by travelling and interacting with so many different people from across the continent, something he argues has been greatly helped by Interrail (alongside Erasmus and budget airlines like Ryanair). So, if all young Europeans received free 1-month Interrail tickets when they turned 18, would that encourage a stronger common identity?

To get a reaction, we spoke to Vincent-Immanuel Herr, co-founder of the #FreeInterrail initiative, which campaigns in favour of the policy. What would he say?

[…] From our own experience, we are firmly convinced that you can really expand your own horizons only when you leave your own country and your own comfort zone and get to know something new.

My colleague Martin [Speer] and I launched the Interrail initiative because we realised on our own European tour how unequal the access to Europe is. There is a large group of young people who travel a lot – maybe they can also be called the ‘Erasmus generation’. But there is also a large part of our generation who never go abroad and therefore never personally experiences Europe. This is not only a pity for them individually, but also dangerous for European unification.

The European idea is based on this beautiful saying: ‘unity in diversity’. In my opinion, to understand this diversity and really appreciate it, you need a personal experience of diversity. If we succeed in making sure that all young people in Europe travel abroad, make friends there and perceive diversity as a beautiful thing, then that is also really good for European integration. Or you might say it the other way around: if we cannot make all EU citizens play a part in this diversity, then the European idea is in great danger.

Populists in all EU member states present diversity as a danger and attack it again and again. If that did not happen, we would have far fewer problems with all these marginal political forces that want to break Europe.

To get a reaction from the European Commission, we also spoke to Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport. What was his position?

Not all our readers were as enthusiastic as João. For example, we had a comment sent in from EU Reform- Proactive, who dismisses completely the idea of free Interrail tickets as a way to “buy” support for the European project. How would Vincent-Immanuel Herr respond to this charge?

Neither Martin nor I work for the EU, nor do we have much to do with them. Except that they now find our idea great. We have no relationship with the institutions except that we are enthusiastic about Europe and of course want to support the EU as an important project in Europe.

The idea for the initiative came from young people who were traveling themselves. In the beginning we were the only two people working on the project; now we have a team from many different European countries. Today, many young people join our project, saying: it’s a great idea, that’s what I’m committed to. So, it’s a civil society initiative.

On the money question: I think you have to see it the other way around. It is true that the program will be expensive if it is introduced all at once for all young people. But on the other hand, somebody needs to show me a better way to reach all future generations in Europe for the same amount of money. I think there is no better way. In that sense, it is cheap for the 500 euros it will cost per person. When you consider that the money can be a truly life-changing experience in a young person’s life. And that’s what we keep hearing from people who travel via Interrail. The experience is invariably positive, but unfortunately can only be done by a small number of people. When we mobilise an entire generation, that’s relatively little money and certainly not a waste of money.

You can also argue in a purely economic way: consider what that will trigger in terms of tourism revenues and economic recovery, especially in Southern and South-Western European countries. Therefore, the program will in the long run make even more money than is spent.

Finally, how would Commissioner Tibor Navracsics respond to the same comment? Are free Interrail tickets just a gimmicky attempt to indoctrinate young people?

Should all Europeans get free Interrail tickets on their 18th birthday? Would that help foster a stronger sense of European identity, and give young people the chance to travel and explore other cultures? Or would it be a waste of money and a cynical way of “buying” popular support? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) Bigstock – sutthinon; PORTRAIT CREDITS: Herr (cc) – Phil Dera/DIE ZEIT

34 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. Ivan

    Why & who is going to pay for it ? You do know Brussels is about to lose one of its few net contributors don’t you.

    • Michael

      We can pay for it with all the money the UK will be forking over to stay in the single market. 😁

    • Ivan

      Michael lol, in your dreams 8|

    • Stephen

      Michael the EU needs to face it we are leaving with NO deal and giving the EU NO money too.😁🇬🇧

    • Bronco

      Ivan you left so why are you still bugging people here? When someone leaves a club or get kicked out, he cannot b***h about what ppl in the club plan to do!

    • Ivan

      Bronco Because this is a page for debating ‘Europe’ not the EU. 8|

    • Bronco

      Ivan actually it’s EU. It’s like they say America for US and they mean US.

    • Ivan

      Bronco There are 51 ‘European Nation States but only 27 in the EU. Re-read the title of the page comrade, the pointless EU is not mentioned. 8|

    • Bronco

      Ivan so its still majority. If you don’t like it go, and as I know you already left.

    • Bronco

      Stephen who cares

    • Ivan

      Bronco majority ?! what are you talking about ?? lol

    • Rumy


  2. David

    Of course! It’s important to foster our sense of europeanness and to visit other countries of our union is a great way :)

  3. Tom

    ahah what a stupid idea! Raining down money is never a good idea. Structural program the give the people the mean to earn stuff is the way to go. Teach people to relay on assistantialism is no good politics.
    Socialexpenditure needs to be a temporary safenet for those who needs to reenter the market not a charity.
    So you would like to give any 18 years old free ticket despise their different family incomes?

    What a stupid idea.

    But coming from the undemocratic EU is no surprise.
    A PM in italy mr Renzi (or Fonzie as we called him) spent billions in order to give a bonus of 500 euro to all 18years old. Well glad we have removed it, was a economic disaster.
    I don’t need to pay for you mp3 music, your book collection or you boyband concerts.
    Go to a library or pay it for yourself!

    • Rumy

      I agree

    • Oliver

      i wannt frree staf..

    • Rumy

      when do you want it

    • Oliver

      todayy : ))))

    • Rumy

      What is it that you don’t understand …?

    • Oliver

      errr… er.. economics?

  4. EU Reform- Proactive

    Dear Commissioner Mr. Tibor Navracsics:

    before you were born in 1966 in Hungary some of us students already traveled through Europe and North Africa on a minimal but self earned budget, unsupported by our parents- never mind being “spoiled or mentally bought” (of course it is an EU investment) with financial support from a “political but questionable concept called EU”!

    Your response is so predictable and your employment by and “bond by oath” to the EU gives you away as loyal servant to your employer- the EU- not Hungary. Quite unimpressive but a very save lifestyle!

    OUR travels happened on European roads by the good will of fellow road users- called- “hitch hiking”- not save Interrail! We made lots of interesting contacts & friends- even sleeping near “a-political” European animals like cows & sheep’s in hay- stables when darkness caught up with us.

    Not only in Europe- but also in Africa, overnight-ting in the desert by stringing a rope in the sand around our sleeping bags to guard against scorpions- meeting people, tasting the sand & viewing the stars.

    I don’t envy you, but i guess you haven’t tasted the “real world”! Good luck to you & the new generation of political Euro-crates!

  5. Dan

    As i’m well over eighteen and so can’t qualify for this squalid bribe,can I suggest that the rest of us are given free worldwide rail tickets,so we can travel the globe and try and delude ourselves into thinking we’re citizens of the world.

  6. Dan

    Quite right, there’s literally thousands of young Syrians in Greece all under 18(well according to them they are)that would love to have these free tickets to travel around the continent.who’s up for that idea hey??.

  7. Rumy

    Public services should be free to people who work and pay taxes. Exemptions should be made for people with special needs. Anyone who’s feeding off the system for more than 6 months shouldn’t be allowed to vote let alone get free stuff.

  8. Stadex

    The EU is like a person who doesn’t know who they are, if you are the European Empire and you want to be big then you must create a sense for Europe and travel is one of the most vital means of creating a sense for Europe.

  9. Paul X

    How about using the money to try help 18 year olds get a job and gain some sense of responsibility commensurate with their age rather than encouraging them to spend a month swanning about Europe under some EU freedom of movement propoganda scheme….

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