The EU Is Giving Away Free Train Tickets to European Teens
“It's not getting from A to B," American novelist David Balducci once said. "It's not the beginning or the destination that counts. It's the ride in between... This train is alive with things that should be seen and heard. It's a living, breathing something – you just have to want to learn its rhythm."
Traveling across Europe is a coming-of-age fantasy for people across the globe – and the Interrail is the ticket to why so many European youth get to take such a trip.
Created in 1972 as a unique train travel pass designed specifically for youth, the Interrail Pass puts borderless train travel in the reach of a quarter-million European youth each year, allowing them to visit up to 30 European countries with just a single ticket. The Interrail program is the result of partnerships between more than 35 European railway and ferry companies, and costs just more than $600 – until today, that is.
The DiscoverEU project, launched Thursday by the European People's Party, announced that it will give away 15,000 free Interrail passes this summer with the aim of giving EU teens a stronger understanding of what it means to be European.
The program offers a free Interrail pass for winning nationals of the 28 EU member states over the age of 18, either via individual application, or in groups of up to five travelers. Among other submission requirements, applicants will have to complete a quiz on EU heritage, culture and current affairs as part of the screening process. Online applications will be accepted between June 12-26, 2018, with winners notified in early July. Winning applicants will receive an Interrail ticket valid for between 1 to 30 days, which will depart from one of the 28 EU member states between July and September 2018, passing through at least one and up to four cross-border destinations. Travelers must visit at least one European Cultural Heritage site, and serve as an ambassador for DiscoverEU by reporting on their travel experiences via social media. They must also make their pictures available for the DiscoverEU anniversary photo exhibition at the European Parliament.
"There is more to this proposal than free train tickets," said Manfred Weber, chairman of the European People's Party Group. "It is an investment in young people and in Europe's future. It reinforces the main aim of the European Union: to bring people together. We want young Europeans to discover the EU is also about emotions, not just politics. We want to give them a taste of what it feels like, not only to be Slovak, German or Greek, but also European. And what better way than by taking the train?"
The project is the brainchild of two German men: Martin Speer, 31, and Vincent-Immanuel Herr, 29. Speer and Herr came up with the idea four years ago, convinced that “the European idea depends on the continent’s citizens interacting with each other." Their idea resulted in a change.org petition that has garnered nearly 40,000 signatures as of the time of this post and was met with majority support in the European Parliament in 2016.
Weber's vision for European youth goes beyond just the initial 15,000 Interrail tickets currently available in the initial phase of the DiscoverEU project. In a heartfelt statement on the project website, Weber shared his own experience of discovering his greater continental ties:
"I want one [train ticket] for every European turning 18. When I was a young student, I just couldn't wait to visit the European places I had read so much about but never seen. On my travels, I came across people who were not so different to me. I also learned to appreciate the little quirks that made them British, Italian, Spanish… I felt my mind broaden in ways I could not have imagined. I felt European. And I still need your help if I'm going to persuade the EU to offer every single European the chance to experience this too, to make new friends from all over Europe and feel a common European identity."
Weber's appeal for help no doubt has to do with finances: The European Union allocated $14 million in taxpayer funds toward DiscoverEU on March 1, with a goal of sending up to 30,000 18-year-olds across the continent for free. If the first phase goes well this year, and the next seven-year EU budget plans are approved, the DiscoverEU budget could dedicate a total of $120 million per year for up to 200,000 teenagers the ability to explore Europe cost-free.
"It starts this year and this is just the beginning," Weber said. "It will show the European people that the European Union is much more than a law-making machine."
Featured photo by PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images.