Teenagers across the EU, including here in Brexit Britain, who turn 18 before next month (July) can get a free 30-day Interrail pass worth up to £400.
The DiscoverEU giveaway is being funded by the European Union. This will be the first and last year British teenagers can apply for it.
The scheme was dreamed up by German MEP and leader of the European People’s party in the European parliament, Manfred Weber. He wants the EU to eventually give a free Interrail pass to every child in an EU country for their 18th birthday to promote cultural and social ties among EU citizens.
“I am convinced that the ‘18th birthday’ Interrail pass for Europe could become a true flagship project for the development of a common European identity in diversity,” he said.
Interrail was launched in 1972 with £27.50 tickets offering unlimited travel across Europe as part of a scheme by rail operators to tempt young Europeans to explore their home continent. The European Parliament and European Commission hope that those with perhaps the least opportunities to travel will have one of the most formative experience of their lives.
“The idea is to give all young Europeans, not just students, the opportunity to travel and discover the beauty and richness of Europe and Europeans”, said Mr Weber.
“I believe it can contribute to create a feeling of common amongst Europeans,” he said of the £10.6m pilot scheme.
A further €700m has been pencilled in for the next seven years. The first application round for 15,000 tickets will take place this month between 12 June and 26 June. If successful, another 15,000 passes will be released in the second half of the year.
About 1,900 tickets have been earmarked for British applicants, with 2,500 for Germany, 1,960 for France and 140 for Ireland. These allocations may change depending on take up from each member state.
Participants will be able to travel up to 30 days to up to four EU countries with rail and ferries included.
Their trip should be connected to a place with a specific value in terms of European cultural heritage, European sites, places of historic interest, specific social or cultural values and traditions.
Applicants will have to give reasons for why they should be awarded the Interrail pass and agree to act as European ambassadors by posting about their experiences on social media.
DiscoverEU sees the free rail passes as an investment in European cultural identity. The project conceives the idea of Europe to be “above all, about people connecting and sharing emotions.”
By providing free rail tickets, the EU would be helping enable Europeans to connect and share with people across the Union at a very early age. The people behind DiscoverEU also hope that the program will help “counter the current growth of populism” by helping young people experience the advantages of free movement, see the reality of neighbouring countries for themselves and explore what it is that unites Europeans.
If selected, participants would have to carry out their travel between the months of July and September of 2018.