Berlin-based activists and authors Vincent-Immanuel Herr and Martin Speer have proposed a free one-month Interrail pass for every 18-year old European. This initiative could help combat stereotypes and foster a European identity among the youth. By Amelie Buchwald
It can be generally agreed upon that travelling opens the eyes and minds of people, however, not everyone has the chance to travel across Europe. A free Interrail pass would change this and every young European, regardless of his or her socioeconomic background, could have the opportunity to experience Europe. The mobility of individuals is already a cornerstone of European programmes, in particular, Erasmus+, and European identity, yet, a free travel opportunity would make this mobility action more accessible to even more young people.
The benefits range from an increased mutual understanding to creating a more European identity at the grassroots level. In an atmosphere of increased renationalisation of identity and thinking, young people who experience the “unity in diversity” through traveling could counter this trend. Besides the benefits on a personal level, it would positively influence society as a whole. When one increases cross-cultural exchange, interconnection and European identity of the youth, one invests in the future of the European project. Not only would the month-long traveling lead to personal growth of a young person, but have long-term effects, such as thinking about politics outside the national context and contesting stereotypes. A journey through Europe might bridge the difference between a young person and the abstractly perceived idea of Europe. By experiencing life in different European countries, it becomes easier to see what unites us while also fostering understanding for cultural differences across Europe. As Herr & Speer state in their proposal, the Interrail travel would help to break down barriers and even appeal to non-political or Eurosceptic youth.
The costs for a month-long “Interrail global pass” that is valid in 30 countries is currently 461€ per ticket for under 25-year olds. A share of the 14.7 billion Euro Erasmus+ budget could be allocated to buy and distribute the tickets with great effectiveness and little additional bureaucracy. Every 18-year old European would be eligible for a ticket once. Many of the approximately 140 million currently under 25 could take advantage of this scheme in the future, which would allow them use infrastructure, i.e. the trains, that is already in place and running. The Interrail ticket is, as Herr & Speer state, an underused tool of European integration, the free one-month pass would change this.
In addition, the young generation of Europeans should not only get to know the continent through travelling across it. According to PDU’s principles, it is arguably as important to have a mandatory one-year service in the military or a form of community service after leaving school for all girls and boys. Along with the free Interrail pass, these year-long services would go a long way for European integration. Not only could young people explore the different cultures of Europe, but also actively contribute to improving the European polity.
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