Europe is thinking of giving all its 18-year-olds free InterRail tickets for backpacking holidays

Smile! At least it’s free.
Smile! At least it’s free.
Image: Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski
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The EU’s malaise has many strands: Brexit causing a divided union. A steady rise in far-right populist politics. Years of youth unemployment. A record-breaking refugee crisis.

Brussels has an idea to combat this: It’s proposing handing out InterRail passes to European teens on their 18th birthday, letting them travel by train across Europe for free for a month. MEPs and representatives from the European Commission discussed the proposal at the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg on Tuesday (Oct. 4), with transport commissioner Violeta Bulc saying she would explore the “excellent idea” further.

Around 300,000 European residents a year use the InterRail system, which lets them travel across the continent on regional trains with one ticket. The #FreeInterrail initiative was first thought up in 2014 by two German campaigners, who see it as a chance to mend a divided continent’s wounds, “foster international relations and cultural exchange,” and “strengthen a unified European community.”

Manfred Weber, a center-right MEP who proposed the question for debate at the plenary, said the free pass could “become a true lighthouse project for the development of a common European identity in diversity.”

Maybe so, but it’s unclear where the money will come from in the EU budget to finance what could well be a pricey scheme: Passes cost up to €473 ($530), so it’s safe to say the Commission will need to find billions to fund the project. One other option being mulled by Bulc is “a lottery with significant amounts of people winning free tickets.”

Sadly, wanderlusting Brits shouldn’t hold their breath. The proposal would need to go through multiple readings and revisions in parliament and the European council before being approved and becoming law. By the time this lengthy process is complete, it’s possible the UK will have already left the EU.