One of the hallmarks of youth that is being seen on more and more social media feeds is the iconic backpacking trip through Europe. Teenagers, fresh off of graduation, set out to see a chunk of the world they’ve only read about in history textbooks and seen in the movies. They hit all the big stops – the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, Big Ben – and then meander into smaller towns and villages before eventually making their way back home.
Well, for teenagers in Europe, that wanderlust is now being financially supported by the European Union (EU). The EU is planning a pilot project where teenagers, upon turning 18 years old, would receive a free rail pass allowing them unlimited travel by train all across the continent for a period of one month. This unlimited monthly pass usually runs about $450 USD for European students; more for adults or non-Europeans.
With this pass, European youngsters would have access to almost every part of the continent. The Eurail offers their rail networks throughout 28 countries from Norway in the north to Greece in the south and from Turkey in the east to Portugal in the west. Their website even has itinerary suggestions for how to best use your train pass depending on if you’re looking for culture, food, history or a bit of romance.
Violeta Bulc, a top transit official with the EU, applauds the decision to create this free train pass scheme for European youth. She does caution that the idea is only in the planning stages at the moment and would take some time to properly institute. The EU will likely begin piloting the project with a small sample of youth before extending it throughout the entire continent.
So is a free train pass just a way for parents to ship their kids off for a summer and for teenagers to get a change of scenery? Not according to advocates who proposed the free pass plan to the EU. They argue that this pass will give young people an opportunity to discover Europe’s diversity and have a greater sense of belonging and European identity. Most importantly, this pass would make travel accessible to all young people, regardless of financial ability.
The importance of promoting a solidified European identity is all the more important after a turbulent year for the EU. Most notably “Brexit”, or Great Britain’s polarizing vote to leave the EU, has caused many to question the purpose, stability and benefit of remaining united. Add to that tension the growing immigrant and refugee crisis, high unemployment rates across the continent, and increasing financial instability and it is easy to see why many are questioning the point of the European Union. This free train travel program is an attempt to convince the next generation that having a unified European identity is a benefit and not a burden.
Another initiative aimed at youth with the goal to promote inter-continental connections is the Erasmus Programme. With Erasmus, European students can study abroad at any of the 927 Erasmus partners across 37 European countries. Since its inception in the 1980s, the program has grown beyond the idea of spending a semester studying at a different school to now offer scholarships, volunteer placements, summer programs and internships.
While the media and anti-Europeans are quick to announce the downfall of the European Union, those on the inside are brilliantly targeting their pro-EU platform to the next generation. But will bringing the youth of Europe together through free travel and study abroad opportunities be enough to keep Europe together?
Photo: Joshua Brown