We get many questions about the #FreeInterrail proposal and campaign – positive, constructive, and critical. While we cannot answer all questions here, we want to provide answers to the most frequent ones:
— On the #FreeInterrail proposal —
What are the key objectives of #FreeInterrail?
#FreeInterrail’s main target groups are: EU youth and the EU integration. Its central idea is to provide youth access to Europe, independent of their personal backgrounds. Universal access to traveling and international experiences will in turn strengthen European cohesion and integration and will secure and foster a peaceful and cooperative shared European future.
Is #FreeInterrail an attempt by the EU to bribe its youth or a European public?
No. #FreeInterrail is a civil society initiative that proposes to strengthen European integration and focus EU attention on youth. The idea was not developed by politicians or professionals in Brussels, but by ordinary citizens wishing for all EU youth to have equal access to the vast diversity of Europe. While the proposal will doubtlessly achieve an image boost for the European Union, it will most importantly combat trends of renationalization, strengthen European unity and identity, and lessen the mobility-gap between youth of different social or financial backgrounds.
How much will this costs and how can it be financed?
The final costs of #FreeInterrail depend heavily on a number of factors, including how many youth will exchange their vouchers for real tickets and how much discount Eurail (who sells Interrail tickets) would grant for such a high number of tickets sold. We estimate the costs to be between several hundreds of millions of euros to a couple of billion per year. We are not part of the specific budgetary talks, and can thus only pose a recommendation as to financing the program. Our recommendation is to fund #FreeInterrail by enlarging the existing ERASMUS+ or the transport budget of the EU. This could, for example, be achieved by slightly cutting down EU tax subsidies for kerosene (that in turn benefits airlines) in order to fund #FreeInterrail. We do NOT propose to cut any funds from any existing youth or mobility programs! #FreeInterrail is a needed addition to current EU programs and complements them.
This costs a lot of money. Shouldn’t we put these resources into other programs or initiatives?
We believe #FreeInterrail is highly relevant in today’s Europe, with its positive and identity strengthening effects easily outweighing its financial costs. Providing EU youth access to Europe and giving them the possibility to learn and experience European diversity first-hand is key to securing a shared and peaceful European future. Currently, it is highly dependent on one’s national, financial, or social background, whether an individual can or cannot access and experience Europe. This divide is particularly dangerous in a political project such as the European Union, that by definition exists in order to bring people of different backgrounds together. #FreeInterrail is supposed to provide a minimum of mobility (and access to Europe) to all young and future EU citizens. It would thus be the EU’s first program to touch upon all their citizens’ lives in a direct and equal manner. #FreeInterrail complements existing EU programs and provides a foundation for future youth and educational campaigns. #FreeInterrail is a long term investement into Europe’s future, enabling peaceful cooperation and the safeguarding of a shared identity.
A free train ticket is not all that is needed to travel. Traveling costs a lot. How will this be addressed?
While it is possible to equip the #FreeInterrail program with add-ons to provide for day-to-day living costs, we believe that the tourism and travel branches, start-up scenes, foundations, and private organizations and donors will quickly adjust to hundreds of thousands of young travelers on European railroads and in cities and develop both low-cost options for such travelers as well as provide civil-society organized and sponsored initiatives to support young travelers while on the road. Additionally, youth will also have to spend money if they stayed home (for food and other expenses), so they might as well spend it abroad. Lastly, different costs of living in different countries may actually encourage young travelers to visit countries and cities that are less expansive, thus extending the list of top-tourism destinations and including new ones on it. This may strengthen European regions.
Why does Europe need #FreeInterrail right now?
The European Union is in a deep crisis right now. There is serious talk about a potential end of the project of European unity and integration. At the same time, there is wide-spread disillusionment with the political system in Brussels and a trend towards renationalization in Europe. Young people in particular have been largely neglected and feel disconnected from political stake-holders and processes. #FreeInterrail is an opportunity for the EU to retake control, provide tangible proof of their interest and focus on youth and future generations, directly combat national stereotypes and conflicts, and reconnects its youngest citizens with the Europe as a continent of many peoples as well as with the European Union as its primary and most far-reaching political project. No other program, operating or proposed, will have such wide-spread and universal effect of EU citizens and their relationship with Europe.
Why use trains when EasyJet and other cheap airlines already connect people across borders?
Using trains and the Interrail network in particular makes sense for a number of reasons: 1) the Interrail network provides an existing infrastructure and organization that can easily be utilized. The network consists of dozens of train companies and allows its users to travel not just with one company but several. No such thing exists for airlines, making it highly complicated to bring different airlines together under one program. 2) traveling by train is in support of the EU’s sustainability goals and offers a much greener way of traveling than flying does. 3) traveling by train connects travelers more to European diversity and its cultures than flying does. Train journeys take longer, yet offer more insights into landscapes, cities, and countries, while also allowing for more interaction with other travelers.
— On the #FreeInterrail campaign —
Is this a party-political initiative or sponsored by the EU?
No. The #FreeInterrail idea was not developed by any political party or by an EU institution. Two German students on Interrail and an Austrian writer had that idea in 2014 in Vienna and subsequently shared a proposal with several EU politicians both in the Parliament and in the Commission. This initiative does not receive any financial support from the EU and is organized wholly as a civil-society project. However, a wide range of EU politicians support the idea and this initiative and are working with us to make #FreeInterrail a reality for all EU youth.
The European Commission will start a pilot project based on #FreeInterrail. Why is a civil society campaign still needed?
A public campaign is now more needed than ever. The EU #FreeInterrail pilot project is an important first step – but also just a first step. It is our goal to provide ALL EU youth with free access to international travel. Only then will #FreeInterrail be able to unfold its positive effects on European youth and European integration to its fullest. A lot of advocacy and campaigning will still need to be done in order for a fully fledged #FreeInterrail program to come about, particularly as such a program will not be inexpensive (as discussed above). Several politicians and professionals in Brussels told us that it will imperative to have a broad public alliance demanding the full implementation in order for it to actually happen. We strongly believe that this task requires all of us – European citizens, civil-society stakeholders, and politicians – to work together in our shared goal of making #FreeInterrail a reality.
Is the #FreeInterrail campaign open for organizations to join (even if they view some aspects of the proposal critically)?
Absolutely, yes! From the beginning, we build the #FreeInterrail campaign on the premise that this is a European society project that includes all sorts of people, organizations, and perspectives. It is highly important for this campaign’s reach and goals to be working with (youth) organizations, foundations, and political parties in order to improve the proposed #FreeInterrail program and to strengthen its overall impact on the EU, Europe, and its youth. We invite all individuals and organizations to get in touch, voice their support or criticism, and work together for the common goal of fostering EU youth and EU integration. We are doing our best to being touch with organizations as much as we can, but also ask you to get in touch if you want to discuss either the proposal or the campaign in order to figure out how we can make progress together.
What can I do to support #FreeInterrail?
Welcome on board! We provided five steps how you can get involved easily and quickly. Find them here.