EU plan to give free InterRail tickets to all young people may never happen

Politicians see scheme as opportunity to counter nationalist feelings across Europe post-Brexit

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The Independent Online

The EU's plan to give a free continental rail pass to all Europeans for their 18th birthday in an effort to encourage young people to “get to know other countries and make new friends” may not be possible due to lack of funding, politicians have said.

Transport commissioner at the European Commission, Violeta Bulc, said the financial viability of the free ticketing scheme would be explored, and voiced hopes it could help rekindle enthusiasm for the European Union among young people.

Following the UK’s recent vote to leave the union, British teenagers will not qualify for the tickets, and many EU politicians see the scheme as an opportunity to counter nationalist feelings across Europe post-Brexit.

“People all around Europe must get to know and learn to cherish each other. Our wish is that as many youngsters as possible ... get to know other countries and make new friends,” Bavarian MEP Manfred Weber told Reuters.

“I am convinced that the 18th birthday InterRail pass for Europe could become a true lighthouse project for the development of a common European identity in diversity. 

“This may not sound like much but sometimes it only takes a spark to light a fire that burns forever. The nationalists are against this: they want neighbours not to be seen as friends.”

However, some EU politicians are concerned the project will face many obstacles - primarily involving funding and potential overcrowding of major rail stations - and therefore will not be realised in the near future.

As an InterRail ticket currently costs up to €480, the scheme could cost up to €2.88 billion, the majority of which would have to be provided by the EU. An estimated six million young Europeans would be eligible for the initiative annually.

Ms Bulc conceded the costs involved raised questions over the scheme.

"Extending access to all 18 year olds for free would therefore present many challenges which require further analysis," she said.

"The Commission will carefully assess the potential cost and funding sources for this initiative, as well as its administrative feasibility. The possible scope of such a scheme must be explored - for instance how can we take into account that fact not all Member States' railways are InterRail members?"

She added that one option could be to limit the issue of the birthday passes via an annual lottery.

If approved, the scheme would be introduced across Europe at the start of 2018.