This summer for the first time the DiscoverEU initiative made it possible for thousands of 18-year-olds to travel the continent at the EU’s expense. But despite criticism, the aim is to make all 18-year-olds benefit.
Not long ago, a girl from Greece stumbled upon a Facebook advertisement. At the time, she didn’t
know that a simple click on the link would take her to five different countries, supply her with a free
ticket to travel Europe, and leave her not wanting to see a train for the next 50 years. But she took the chance: click.
18-year-old Nia Soukouridou was one in 15,000 Europeans her age to be the first to get a free
interrail ticket through the DiscoverEU initiative. In the very first application round more than
100,000 young people answered a quiz with questions about Europe to get a ticket to discover
Europe in the summer, and that is a great success according to the initiator behind the project, the
leader of the European People’s Party, Manfred Weber.
“I am extremely proud of what we achieved. When I first talked about this idea during my speech
on the State of the Union, back in September 2016, I would never have thought that a year and a
half later more than 100.000 young people would have applied to win an interrail ticket,” Weber
writes in an email to Euroscope.
The project has been criticized by Eurosceptics for being a waste of money, a controversial lottery,
and an attempt to bribe young people to support the EU. But Weber is committed to the
original goal of allocating all 18-year-old Europeans with a ticket:
“Of course, this year’s DiscoverEU initiative is only a first step. I am sorry for all the youngsters
who applied and weren’t selected. My ultimate goal is indeed that every European citizen receives a
free Interrail ticket on his/her 18th birthday. I will continue to fight for this in the future.”
First time on track
For Nia Soukouridou, this summer’s interrail has given her once in a lifetime experience. Soukourido had the chance to travel to Romania, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia with one of her friends from home. Besides visiting museums, tasting specialities, and going to weird cafés, they also did – in Soukouridou’s words – a lot of crazy things, like impulsively run a marathon in Belgrade, Serbia.
“We actually found out, there would be a marathon the day it started, so we didn’t really have the
shirts or the equipment, but we were running along with them, just to support them,” she says.With a bit of walking and a lot of determination they completed the marathon.
The event was just one of many, but even though the young Greek would definitely recommend
others to do the quiz to get a DiscoverEU travel pass, the
re is one thing that became too much for
“It was my first time going on a train, and I think I had enough of that experience. For the next 50 years of my life I won’t go on a train again,” she says and tells about lack of sleep and one time where she had to stay more than 12 hours on a station.
Just a holiday?
The free interrail ticket has not changed Soukouridou’s view on the union.
“I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think it has an effect. If people have their eyes open, they
can see what is going on in the European Union. We are grateful for this opportunity, but it doesn’t
change our view on the unfair things happening in the EU,” she says.
But it has given her a positive view on European people, and the answer comes quickly when
having to choose the single most important thing she discovered on the trip.
“Perhaps the kindness of people. People, wherever we went, were so kind to us, they were trying to
help us any way they could,” she says.
Manfred Weber (EPP) assures that the project is not political, arguing that the young people are the
most positive aspect of Europe: “So, if we had that in mind we should have spent the money on old people.”
He maintains that its worth spending money on travel passes for 18-year-olds.
“Only very cynical people would say that experiences abroad for young people are only holidays.
Sending young people abroad and gaining experiences in other cultures and languages should be
just as normal as getting your driver’s license. It helps people on the labour market and gives you
the tools to deal with people from other countries. It also contributes to building a sense, if not of a
European identity, at least of a common belonging.”