How traveling fosters European integration - English

Get them traveling!

By Martin Speer24.06.2015Europe

Despite open borders, Europe still suffers from a lack of personal connections. A free Interrail pass for young Europeans could change that.

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Francesca Schellhaas / photocase.de

Going on a journey changes everything. Your life, your perspective, and your horizons. In most cases, you come back home as a different, reshaped person with new friends and fresh ideas. Traveling by train is a great way to discover a continent. Last year, we, Vincent and Martin, had the chance to travel to 14 European countries. From Great Britain to Spain, Greece to Ukraine, thanks to the Interrail, we were able to see the diversity and beauty of a united Europe. Since 1972, the year the Interrail pass was first introduced, hundreds of thousands of Europeans have had the chance to raise their European awareness, changing their lives. In dining cars, travelers may have made friends for life, at train stations, transnational love stories may have begun, and many still passionately talk about their adventures across the continent. The Interrail’s precious contributions to Europe’s unification process, however, have been underestimated, and its potential not fully explored.

We would like to change that.

Investing in a prosperous and peaceful Europe

The most sustainable and successful projects that support Europe’s unification are those aiming to establish personal relationships. For example, whether talking about Erasmus, other student exchange programs, or initiatives like the European Youth Parliament, wherever people of different origins can meet with a sense of openness and curiosity, a cooperative, productive space is created. Personal relations can have long-lasting effects on a united Europe.

Mutual understanding grows out of personal exchanges, particularly exchanges that are far-reaching and link people emotionally, and not only abstractly or intellectually. These meaningful connections lay the foundation for amity and unity in Europe.

Unfortunately today, only a few young people have the privilege of enjoying such exchanges. Often these persons come from privileged backgrounds that allow and encourage them to travel. In contrast, most young Europeans do not or cannot take full advantage of such offered opportunities. Often, they do not have the money or lack the required qualifications, but also more fundamentally, they do not have the impulse to try. Subsequently, bordering states and the ‘European project’ remain big unknowns. And out of this not-knowing and not-experiencing, skepticism, disfavor, and fear grow. These feelings are the biggest foes of a united Europe. The idea to follow, however, can counteract these growing ones.

A 1-month Interrail pass for all European youth

All European students – including graduates _and_ those who aren’t finishing school –should get the chance to discover their continent and meet their neighbors. We suggest that every school student should receive a 1-month Interrail pass for free. This opportunity would offer every young European, regardless of the monetary situations or family background, the chance to discover the diversity and cultural richness of Europe. Even the apolitical and EU-skeptics might take this chance. Personal relationships amongst young Europeans from different nations can be established, and the potential for an additional European unification resource, the Interrail program, could be unlocked.

Today, only about 170,000 people annually use the Interrail pass, and the coordination of trans-border train connections still leaves much to be desired. This can be improved! The 1-month Interrail idea is concrete and practical. The costs for this future-oriented initiative would be manageable. The trains are running anyway.

And compared to the European bank bailout program, the expenses for a €461 ticket for each European school graduate aren’t even worth mentioning, especially since the effect would be long-lasting. In times where a growing number of people perceive the European idea as abstract and impersonal, only personal relationships and experiences can reconsolidate the basic political, social, and intellectual structures that are needed for a united Europe.

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