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EU youth travel plan pared down

March 27, 2017

The proposal to gift an Interrail Pass to all EU citizens when they turn 18 was rerouted due to its anticipated cost. A pared-down version is planned.

Europa Bahnreise Interrail
Image: Imago/Westend61

What a treat it would have been had certain EU policymakers gotten their way: Spend a few weeks after high school graduation traveling by train through France, Italy, Spain or Croatia - all for free. The proposal put forward by Manfred Weber, MEP from Germany's Christian Social Union (CSU) party, which envisaged giving an Interrail Pass to all EU citizens on their 18th birthday, would have added to the already 300,000 passes purchased every year by young travelers wanting to experience much of Europe by rail.

But the EU Commission gave Weber and his supporters a dose of reality: The project would have cost between 1.2 and 1.6 billion euros annually ($1.3-1.74 billion) - money the EU does not have. A new, lighter version will help around 5,000 students travel the continent by rail with their classes or alone. The 2.5-million-euro initiative, called "Move2Learn, Learn2Move," will come out of the Erasmus+ education program. Participants must apply online with the same platform that has been coordinating education exchanges across the EU for the last few years.

A feel for Europe

"This initiative will give young people the chance to discover and experience other countries and cultures all around Europe first hand," said Tibor Navracsics, EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport. "[It is] another example of the successful history of Erasmus that brings people together, thereby giving them a sense of what it means to be European."

Selected young travelers will have two weeks between August and December next year to make use of a travel ticket worth 350 euros. In some cases, costs of up to 530 euros will be covered, under the condition that the method of travel is environmentally friendly. Air travel is to be used as little as possible so as to remain within CO2 emissions limits.

'Bureaucracy monster'

Weber, head of the European People's Party Group, is not enthusiastic about the pared-down proposal, the full version of which he originally put forward last September. "The European Commission is passing on a great opportunity," he said. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community as a precursor to today's European Union, Weber sees the reduced plan as the creation of a "bureaucracy monster".

Manfred Weber CSU EVP Europaabgeordneter
Weber: "We don't want a bureaucracy monster"Image: picture-alliance/tagesspiegel/Heinrich

The European Parliament's social-democratic Party of European Socialists is less skeptical. It is too easy to criticize everything, said MEP Jens Geier. "I think it's first and foremost good that the European Commission met MEPs' request to do more for mobility for young people." EU money needs to be continually spent to this end, not merely shuffled around, he said. "Move2Learn, Learn2Move" proves that is happening, according to Geier.

Abroad for all

The initiative's 5,000 tickets was "insufficient," Geier admitted.  That is why the European Parliament pushed for more Erasmus funding every year, he said. "Every young person should have the chance during his or her education to go abroad," he added, including those who study and those who cannot or do not want to.

Geier would grow Erasmus+ by a factor of 10 if he could, but he opposes Weber's plan for an Interrail Pass for every 18-year-old due to lack of funds and lack of agreement among EU members. "I do not want to make promises we cannot keep.”

But Weber is not giving up on his original plan. He announced a new effort for 2018 to give every 18-year-old European citizen the chance to "experience this wonderful continent."