Officials hope to instill the sense of a shared European culture in their youth.
The European Union has announced that they intend to offer 20,000-30,000 teenagers the chance to travel around the continent for free during a full month this summer. The EU has set aside 12 million Euros for free Interrail Passes, available to young people 18 years of age and older. This stipend could increase if it is decided to extend the offer to more people.
The decision comes after the European Parliament proposed the plan in 2016, with the hopes that young people, even those in low income families, will have the opportunity to “foster a European identity.” The EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics, commented:
“It is important that we offer all our young people the opportunity to broaden their horizons by experiencing other countries. Education is not only about what we learn in the classroom, but what we discover about the cultures and traditions of our fellow Europeans.”
The Interrail system was launched in 1972 and the pass was limited to those 21 or younger and only covered 21 countries. Now the pass is open to all, with different rates depending on your age. While the youth pass is still the cheapest, a 1-month unlimited pass would cost 632 Euros today.
City Lab compares what the Interrail offers to the 18th-century “Grand Tour,” an upper-class “coming-of-age” tradition which saw many young people taking a tour of Europe. The Interrail has kept this custom alive to spread the cultural diversity of a continent jam-packed with different customs, languages, music, and priorities.
Visiting any major European station 25 years ago, you would have found the summer platforms packed with young people using Interrail passes, heading off to pretty much wherever they fancied on a whim. Its price—a then-steep £27.50 ($38) when first launched in 1972—meant that the experience was largely confined to young people who had middle- or upper-income parents, or who had jobs to help them save up. In an era when flights were still an exorbitant luxury and part-time jobs for teenagers more readily available, it was still a great deal. Night trains made it possible to cut accommodation costs, and the sheer range of countries included—all of Western Europe and even much of the Eastern bloc before 1989—was dizzying.