Imagine it is your 18th birthday and you find a personalized

letter from the European Commission in your postbox.

In it: a voucher to travel Europe.

– Your life will change –

#FreeInterrail – a proposal to strengthen Europe and its youth

Background


Mobility is a key element to foster intercultural exchange, international friendships, and European integration. Through our travels, we realized the transformative power of getting to explore different places first-hand and actually meeting up with people from different backgrounds in person. Nothing makes us more European than actually seeing each other face-to-face.

The Problem


Not everybody gets to travel. In fact, many Europeans, including plenty of young ones, barely get to leave their country. For many people, traveling is too expensive and thus not integral part of their lives. As a consequence, some people get to explore Europe first-hand, while other do not get that opportunity. The result is a tremendous imbalance of experiences that can lead to splits in societies, even xenophobia, and scepticism of a shared European future.

The Idea


Every European youth gets a free Interrail voucher for his or her 18th birthday. The voucher is valid for six years and can be turned in for a one-month Interrail pass at any train station. The vouchers would be provided by European Commission.

Outcome and Effects

  • Increase youth mobility and youth labor mobility

  • Increase social mobility and provide equal access to international travel

  • Combat youth unemployment by providing youth access to different markets and experiences

  • Combat stereotypes and prejudices by enabling first-hand encounters with other youth

  • Foster intercultural friendships and relationships

  • Increase youth interest in EU, its institutions, and political processes

  • Create a shared social experience for all European youth

How #FreeInterrail Developed


#FreeInterrail started as most good ideas do: unexpectedly. In 2014, we traveled with Interrail through Europe and interviewed members of our generation on their perspectives, thoughts, and fears. This journey changed our lives and had shown us the diversity, beauty, and awesomeness of Europe in alls its colorfulness and cultural richness. Were we Europeans in theory before the trip, we had become Europeans out of experience afterwards. One of our last stops led us to Vienna, where we met up with essayist and writer Robert Menasse. There, at a dinner table in the heart of this old city, the idea for #FreeInterrail was born.

Timeline

  • February – April 2014: Finding Young Europe research project in 14 European countries. The #FreeInterrail idea is being developed in a conversation with Robert Menasse in late March 2014 in Vienna.
  • June 2015: After having thought about #FreeInterrail for over a year, we publish our first article on this idea with The EUROPEAN.
  • July 2015: At an event at the Berlin representation of Stiftung Mercator, we propose #FreeInterrail to European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans. Shortly after, Politico’s morning newsletter picks up on that and mentions it.
  • August 2015: Publication with Euractiv.de
  • August 2015: Print publication with Die ZEIT, the text goes online in September.
  • August 2015: Hungarian MEP István Ujhelyi hears about the idea and puts in a written question to the European Commission, asking whether such an idea could be implemented by the EU.
  • August 2015: We propose #FreeInterrail to European Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva at the Forum Alpbach conference in Austria.
  • September 2015: Publication with Euractiv.com
  • October 2015: We send in a full 10-page #FreeInterail proposal to the office of Kristalina Georgieva.
  • January 2016: Publication with CICERO
  • February 2016: We go to Brussels and meet up with MEPs István Ujhelyi, Rebecca Harms, Michael Cramer, and Gesine Meißner to discuss this idea. The four support #FreeInterrail and start the work on a pilot project proposal for funding in 2017. We also meet up with representatives of the European Commission, as well as with think tanks such as Think Young, European Youth Forum, Friends of Europe, European Youth Forum, and others to discuss the idea. The feedback is overwhelmingly positive, while we also hear about critical points and open questions to address. At the 2016 CEPS Ideas Lab, we propose the idea again and, as a result, start a conversation with former European Commissioner László Andor, who we have met up with in Berlin two more times since to talk about #FreeInterrail.
  • Spring – Summer 2016: Rebecca Harms, Michael Cramer, István Ujhelyi, and others table a proposal for a #FreeInterrail pilot project by introducing Draft Amendments 5925 and 5904, respectively.
  • September 2016: #FreeInterrail is voted on as a most promising project by the conference attendees of the ZEIT Online Z2X Festival of the New Visionaries in Berlin.
  • September 2016: EPP chair Manfred Weber mentions the idea during the 2016 State of the Union address. As a result, many newspapers and outlets pick up on that idea. Public support starts to grow.
  • September 2016: Publications with IPG Journal and EUobserver, and a publication about us and #FreeInterrail with ZEIT Online and ZEIT Campus.
  • October 2016: Publication with Süddeutsche Zeitung.
  • October 2016: The European Parliament discussed #FreeInterrail with the European Commission. The idea is widely supported amongst others by Manfred Weber (EPP), Rebecca Harms (Greens), Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (Liberals), Istvan Ujhelyi (S&D), and others. The Commission promised to look into it and explore options for implementation.
  • October – November 2016: The two of us have a number of interviews on the initial idea, where it came from, and why it would be important for EU youth. Stations we had interviews with include BBC World Service, Deutschlandradio Wissen, Hessicher Runkfunk, Radio Fritz, RTE Morning Ireland, Funkhaus Europa, and several others.
  • November 2016: We have two Brussels trips. First, Martin is invited by Manfred Weber (EPP) to discuss the idea during a Parliamentary breakfast in Brussels. A week later, both of us go to Brussels to meet and discuss our proposal with the MEPs or the offices of Manfred Weber (EPP), Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (Liberals), Rebecca Harms and Michael Cramer (Greens), Istvan Ujhelyi (S&D), and others. We also have a meeting with a member of Commissioner Violeta Bulc’s cabinet, and learn that the EU Commission intends to start a pilot project in 2017.
  • November 2016: ZEIT Online is first to bring a big report on the proposed pilot project of #FreeInterrail and also highlights the danger of watering down our original proposal. The article may be read here.
  • December 2015: The official #FreeInterrail website is launched that includes background information, FAQ, prominent supporters, and five steps for you to get involved and support the project.