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


48 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    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.

    • avatar
      Michael

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

    • avatar
      Ivan

      Michael lol, in your dreams 8|

    • avatar
      Stephen

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

    • avatar
      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!

    • avatar
      Ivan

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

    • avatar
      Bronco

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

    • avatar
      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|

    • avatar
      Bronco

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

    • avatar
      Bronco

      Stephen who cares

    • avatar
      Ivan

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

    • avatar
      Rumy

      Ditto

  2. avatar
    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. avatar
    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!

    • avatar
      Rumy

      I agree

    • avatar
      Oliver

      i wannt frree staf..

    • avatar
      Rumy

      when do you want it

    • avatar
      Oliver

      todayy : ))))

    • avatar
      Rumy

      What is it that you don’t understand …?

    • avatar
      Oliver

      errr… er.. economics?

  4. avatar
    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. avatar
    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. avatar
    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. avatar
    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. avatar
    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. avatar
    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….

  10. avatar
    John Morten

    A great idea! I choose myself this summer to use interrail together with my two boys 10 and 14 years old to make them familiar with train for travelling, and show there is a green alternative to holidays by plane Thailand, USA etc., for a good summer vacation.

  11. avatar
    Florian Binder

    Hi,

    I heard of this idea to get a 1-month interrail ticket when you turn 18 last time and I was totally in love with this idea. If you are young, you want to travel and come out and if it’s possible for the EU to translate it into action – THAN DO IT EUROPEAN UNION.

    Every young person would be grateful! It’s like you have a break from life and after that month you turn into the life of an adult. It’s just a great idea in my opinion.

    Travelling is life 

  12. avatar
    Zeynep

    From my point of view, it is a good idea to present every teenager a ticket in order to travel around the EU for one month. Well, it is very nice from the government but on the other hand they should provide this offer for everyone who works obscene hours and pay enormous taxes to the government. Unfortunately, a lot of people, not only teenager, also elderly people work below the minimum salary. So, they only have the opportunity to afford the basic needs. They don’t have money left for a travel or for a vacation. Therefore, perhaps the government could at least balance the travel costs.

  13. avatar
    eda_o

    in my opinion, the ticket is a very good idea, because so young people can travel through many countries, get to know new cultures and see a lot of the world at the age of eighteen. this could be a great benefit for young people, as they could take a lot of these trips with them and it is a great opportunity for young people, for example, to improve their language skills. However, men should also keep in mind that parents may not allow their children to travel to different countries, so maybe 18 year olds should apply for the ticket for the first time.

  14. avatar
    melikexx

    It is a magnificent idea from the european commission to give away free interrail tickets for teenagers at the age of 18. Thus the young people have the opportunity to get to know and gain experiences about cultures and traditions in other european countries and to compare these with theirs. To travel across the europe can additionally lead to motivation in many adolescents. In my opinion, every teenie would take this opportunity and enjoy the journey to 30 different european countries. What a pity, I’m not 18 anymore!

  15. avatar
    Isabella B.

    Re: Should all Europeans get free Interrail tickets on heir 18th Birthday?

    Definitely! A free Interrail ticket to the 18th Birthday will be the best present for young people to explore other countries and to make their own experiences. Furthermore the travellers will boost the income of communities by spending money for their accommodation, in restaurants and in souvenirs. The youngsters can make friends abroad and maybe also extend their culture knowledge.

    However travelling alone (without parents) or with friends is a huge step to growing up for young people. If I will get such a ticket, I will take to 100% the chance to go on a journey.

  16. avatar
    anirbas sabrina

    A ticket for over 18 -sounds nice. But I´m already over 18 so it’s not really necessary to me.
    But I´ve got a opinion: I really don’t think that young people need to travel free around Europe and “Mother” state is paying for it. I´m mean there are families in Europe who are starving or cannot even afford proper shoes and clothes, while others with a higher income are spending money on useless things. When young people want to travel get a job I think that they should do something for it. There are a lot of agencies where you can travel and work at the same time.

  17. avatar
    alexandra.sierra

    I think this idea is more than brilliant! Travelling across the EU and visiting 30 different european countries FOR FREE?! Amazing, I love that. You can gain a lot of experience by travelling alone because you’re on your own. Your parents aren’t there to take care of you and your articles of value. Of course it’s a little bit risky.. because for most of the teenagers, this journey would be the first vacay without their family, especially for the teenagers that recently turned 18. I would highly recommend to travel with a friend first and the next time alone. To travel alone is very courageous, in my opinion. I would definitely use that Interrail ticket to travel with my best friend through Europe!

  18. avatar
    Raffaela_k

    Should all Europeans get free Interrail tickets on their 18th birthday?
    I think that’s a brilliant idea. There has never been such a great offer and it would be something else. Thus young people can explore the world carefree and get to know other cultures. Maybe it would also be a good idea to offer people such an opportunity. The people who earn less and can’t afford a ticket.

  19. avatar
    nikita_

    Yes, I would definitely be in favor of such a map because you can travel with it and experience new adventures. This idea is a must for people who like to travel because you do not get something like that every day. I think the European Union could from time to time distribute such actions and gifts. This would allow you to acquire a great deal of knowledge and above all to get to know and understand new things and cultures. This is a dream for many young adults and in my opinion this should be introduced.

  20. avatar
    Florian.Berisha

    RE: Should all Europeans get free Interrtail tickets on their 18th Birthday?

    Why are we even discussing this? Of course they should! It would open a lot of opportunities for young folks to discover Europe more and experience other cultures! Not to forget the future benefits. Maybe studying in Belgium? Why not. Maybe work in London. No problem! Why not give them the chance and find even a lot about themself out.

    Big supporter of this Idea.

  21. avatar
    Nadl

    A 1-month-railway-ticket for free!?!? This is one of the best proposals I’ve ever heard!!!I am a person who loves to travel, but the flight/rail/car costs are very expensive these days. We students have a low income and must save. This ticket would help us to fulfill our wishes, but still save our money. School excursion would also be cheaper. The trips make us happier and wiser, so it would be a useful support I find such proposals very good. Here in Vienna, there are many offers for teenagers. For example: „Top-Jugendticket“ You can travel to Vienna and Vienna surrounding with all public transport and this for 1 year. The ticket costs 70€ and it‘s only for students. But the free-Europe-railway offer outlines everyone. I hope that the offer will be in Austria in the future. Dream come true😍

  22. avatar
    Ogii

    On the one hand I think it’s good, but on the other hand it’s not. Many young Europeans will be happy about it. These will then use it properly and look that they travel a lot. This will also give them a lot of experience, seeing many new and different cultures and being closer to the world.
    Others will find it unnecessary and will not use it. That’s another waste of money. That would not do Europe good.
    It may also be that the parents do not allow the children, because even with 18 you are not always mature enough to travel alone.

  23. avatar
    Robel

    Re: Should all Europeans get free Interrail tickets on heir 18th Birthday?

    Thats really difficult I would compare it with a dubble edged sword.

    On the one hand you get access to a charge free tool to travel all over europe. It’s an exspecially attractive offer for all the schoolers who have plenty of free time in the summer and a affinity to see new sights of europe.

    But on the other hand there has to be a budget to realize that project. Someone has to pay the workers and the other costs. And I think this would be us by paying higher taxes.

    The me who needs a vacation would pray for the realization of this project, but the me who works every weekend would say who needs this.

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