Free Interrail trips will fix the mobility and social cohesion problems we face in Europe? If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. The proposal by the European People’s Party (EPP), initiated by German MEP Manfred Weber, to give every European who turns 18 a free Interrail ticket, is nothing more than a populist proposal. And it is worrying that the European Commission is not taking a clear stand against it.
If the EPP really wants to do something for mobility and social cohesion they should look at the roots of the problems. The bureaucracy for moving from one EU country to another is still huge, a language barrier is often present and last but not least the recognition of skills and education between countries is almost zero. These are just some of the real issues, making it difficult for Europeans of all ages to move across borders – not just for 18-year-olds. The solutions are not easy, and they require work from all levels of the European Union and its member states, there is no quick fix.
Moreover, the EPP seems to have forgotten that there already is a program within the European framework that aims to increase mobility and break down barriers for young people; the Erasmus+ Program. While the Erasmus+ Program is not perfect, it is often highlighted as one of the greatest success stories of the EU.
Instead of spending an estimated 1,5 billion Euros annually to give young Europeans free travel, this money should be kept in the taxpayers’ pockets. However, if the EPP really wants to spend this money on strengthening mobility and social cohesion, the money would be better spent strengthening the Erasmus+ Program where mobility goes hand in hand with education and learning about different cultures. This would also limit the social inequality found in the proposal of the EPP; paying for the train ticket does not make the Interrail tour free, a place to stay for example usually does cost money. Those young Europeans affected by youth unemployment, coming from marginalised homes or from relatively poor countries will not have the same opportunity to utilize the free ticket as the youth from wealthier member states, the youth with jobs or the youth from middle and higher classes. Whereas thankfully more and more people within Europe, whatever their background, have the possibility to get an education.
If the proposal by the EPP is adopted there will only be two winners, the resourceful 18-year-old who gets a free Interrail tour and the EU sceptics who get another example to showcase how EU is wasting taxpayers’ money.