The EU’s proposal to give a free Interrail pass to all citizens on their 18th birthday has been positively received by the majority of Members of the European Parliament. However, the debate surrounding the legitimacy of this concept continues with many politicians voicing their opposition to this idea.
An Interrail pass is a rail ticket available to EU citizens allowing unlimited travel between 30 countries. A month long unlimited pass for youth (aged 25 and under) currently costs €479.
Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc stated that this proposal addresses two priorities of the Commission “a renewed focus on Europe’s Youth, and [facilitating] EU citizen’s mobility” during the parliamentary debate in Brussels on October 4.
If put into effect, German news service Tagesschau estimated the initiative could cost up to €1.5 billion per year. Opponents of the proposal argue that this is an unnecessary use of funds which could be targeted in other areas, such as youth unemployment.
United Kingdom Independence Party Member of the European Parliament, Raymond Finch describes the proposal as a “fatuous waste of EU taxpayers’ resources” and “insulting to the young people of our nations”.
“It is not intended for cultural cohesion. It is simply a propaganda vehicle” Finch said.
“Ask the millions of young people in Europe who have no hope of employment … whether they would prefer a train ticket which is useless to them, as they could not afford the associated costs to travel, or a real future with jobs.”
The concept behind the free rail pass scheme is to encourage environmentally efficient travel that connects young EU citizens between member states, with the aim of promoting broader cultural cohesion and economic benefits.
Bulgarian student Zlatimira Kostadinova, 17, believes “when young people are travelling to various destinations, they are not only enriching their own general knowledge but also enrich their lives by finding new friends [and] learning about new cultures.”
“One of my biggest dreams is to go to France and Italy. Having a free pass will give me an opportunity to follow my dreams, or at least it will make it easier” Kostadinova said.
A Eurobarometer survey found that culture is the main factor likely to unite Europeans over economic influences. However, the question remains as to how effective this proposal would be in promoting cross-cultural relations within the EU.
A successful example of an EU initiative that has promoted the creation of socio-cultural ties is the Erasmus program (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) which has aided over 3 million students to study abroad since 1987.
At this point, details as to how the free rail pass proposal would be implemented in conjunction with transport operators are unavailable. The Interrail pass is currently managed by transport company Eurail that also offers a similar rail pass to non-EU citizens.
Manager of Marketing and Communications of the Eurail Group, Nadine Koszler said if the concept was put into practice the Interrail network would constructively support the initiative.
“It is too early to provide concrete details on the potential distribution of funds to railway carriers” Koszler said.
“The foundations of Interrail are linked to youth … With other successful initiatives such as the Erasmus grants, Interrail has been one of the many ways in which the European Union values have been determined by a younger generation.”