European Parliament wants to hand out InterRail tickets for free – Can this really help to close the gap between the EU institutions and the citizens?
by Thomas Bergmann
What’s this about?
Recently, the European Parliament has made a lot of buzz in the media. The Parliament wants to offer EU citizens a free InterRail pass for their 18th birthdays. The youngsters will then have the opportunity to travel across Europe for a month during one year from the date of their birthday. The idea behind this initiative is to make young citizens go on a trip to get to know Europe’s beauty, to meet their neighbours in other countries, and become friends with them. The citizens will be enabled to simply feel what it means to be European. So far so good, but is this initiative really a legitimate policy instrument, or an efficient way of fighting Euroscepticism and increasing mobility?!
- Bringing the EU closer to its youth.
For many years, the EU has been facing a deep political crisis. Europeans are less and less convinced of the EU and politics in general. They feel abandoned by political leaders, as if they have nothing to say in politics, … There is general mistrust towards the political establishment. Therefore, the idea to devote some effort for young people is not bad. Offering free InterRail tickets to youngsters would give a positive message and bring Europe closer to its youngsters.
- Giving (really every) EU citizen the chance to experience this continent.
The EU is already doing lots to make young Europeans experience other countries, cultures and languages. ERASMUS probably is the best and most well-known example. As you all know, Erasmus is the « European Action Scheme for the mobility of University Students ». Yeah, it’s THE EU fund all EU youngsters love, because they get to continue studying while discovering a city, and most of all, partying for a few months away from home. The total budget allocated to the program for the 2016-2020 time frame mounts up to 14,7 billion euros (yep, that’s a lot of money). Unfortunately, not every EU citizen can profit from this program and go abroad for a certain amount of time (normally six months, sometimes one year). ERASMUS is only open to a certain elite. With the InterRail initiative finally all the young people in Europe would have the possibility to experience this continent and be treated equally.
- Will all youngsters really profit from it?
Doing an InterRail tour also means paying for accommodation, food and sometimes some extra train tickets (if you want to travel quicker from one place to another for example). Providing young people with an InterRail ticket therefore only benefits the „rich kids“ who could probably get themselves a ticket on their own. Youngsters coming from less fortunate or deprived families will not have sufficient (financial) resources to profit from this opportunity. In the end, the project of free InterRail tickets for young Europeans could therefore strengthen the feeling that the EU is not fair and not taking the citizens’ real needs into account.
- Should Europe give away so much money to a private company?
It has been estimated that granting an InterRail pass to each young person turning 18 would cost the EU between 1,5 and 3 billion euros. This corresponds to 1 to 2 % of the EU’s budget. In our point of view, it is problematic to give such a huge amount of public money to one single private company. InterRail is in fact a private company, which does not even operate in all EU Member States.
- Couldn’t the money be spent on more reasonable and beneficial projects?
Although a free InterRail pass would allow youngsters who turn 18 to travel across Europe for a month, their experience of the EU’s achievements will be very limited and without a real and concrete link to any cultural, educational or professional project. They will not go abroad and discover other cultures as they would through ERASMUS, nor will they win any kind of professional experience for their future. Therefore, the money could definitely be spent more efficiently if it was invested in education or training. It could be added to the ERASMUS budget, or to fight youth unemployment through the Youth Guarantee.
- Will it really change the citizens’ points of views on the EU?
Thanks to decreasing travel and accommodation costs, trips throughout Europe are already a reality for many youngsters. They regularly spend long weekends in the capitals of EU Member States such as Berlin, Paris or Vienna. It therefore is doubtful that offering InterRail passes is the best way of reviving the love for the EU among youngsters. Buying the support of EU citizens with gifts might not be the best idea. Youngsters are perfectly capable of rationally understanding why the EU is so important in their lives and for their future. Thus, the European Parliament should invest in long-term solutions and deep changes in EU policies to make the European youth gain back their autonomy and embrace its European identity.