In September 2016, the European Parliament discussed the suggestion to give free Interrail passes to European youngsters for their 18th birthday. The initiative to encourage young people to explore the European continent by train has since sparked a #FreeInterrail debate that has dominated the classic and social media.
We at Study.EU make no secret of it: We stand behind the #FreeInterrail concept. We believe in it for the same reasons we strive to make international study choices easier for thousands of students every day. Let us tell you why.
The most important point is made by the original proponents of #FreeInterrail:
Mobility is a key element to foster intercultural exchange, international friendships, and European integration.
With a potential Brexit, and the rise of right-wing nationalist parties across Europe, the EU as an institution is under greater threat than ever. Say what you will about overbearing bureaucracy – and you may be right – but the EU has brought the longest period of peace to Europe anyone could find in the history books. Integration means peace and wealth, that is as simple as it is. So any reasonable campaign that would foster intercultural exchange deserves support.
However, not everyone loves the idea of government-funded travel vouchers. Some critics say that tax-payers should not fund such gifts. But let us put that thought into perspective: In August, the European Commission declared Apple's deal with Irish tax authorities illegal. Apple now owes 13 billion euros in tax, enough for 32 million one-month Interrail tickets. Even if every single one of the roughly 5 million European 18-year-old birthday boys or girls per year were to use the ticket, #AppleTax would fund the #FreeInterrail campaign for more than 6 years. And even if Apple would somehow get around its taxes (again): The required budget for free Interrailing would represent only a fraction of the European Union's hugely successful Erasmus+ programme, currently budgeted at 14.7 billion annually.
Not to mention that a #FreeInterrail campaign would also yield huge short-term benefits for the overall economy. Youngsters provided with a free Interrail ticket would, of course, spend money on accommodation, food and entertainment during their travels. Moreover, it is probably safe to assume that – as with all tourism – the sunnier destinations will prove the more popular. And coincidentally, countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy or Greece stand to benefit from such consumption. Meanwhile, young people from countries with high unemployment rates stand a real chance at making connections and finding employment abroad.
Furthermore, #FreeInterrail will serve as the basis for an ongoing relationship with other cultures, and hopefully encourage even more students to study abroad in Europe. We at Study.EU give our best to enable students to make smart decisions about their future. But seeing your options for yourself, on location, will make all the difference and go a long way towards forming an integrated, open-minded Europe.
In conclusion: #FreeInterrail deserves our support, and it should be implemented by the EU government. It is a natural extension of the same European ideals that are the foundation for successful programmes as Erasmus. It would be more inclusive than existing higher-education initiatives. And we as a society could reave its manifold benefits in both the short and the long term.
Show your support for #FreeInterrail: Sign the petition on change.org.