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We went! 15,000 18-year-olds on the track for the free season ticket Interrail – POLITICO

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 We went!  15,000 18-year-olds on the track for the free season ticket Interrail - POLITICO

Does the idea of ​​a free Interrail subscription for all Europeans on their 18th birthday seem unrealistic to you? A little naive? Definitely not a priority?

Well, no matter how skeptical you are in the beginning, you better change your mind. And change that fast because it will happen. On May 3, the European Commission will officially announce the launch of a pilot project, which MEPs have been successfully promoting for a year and a half. At least 15,000 young Europeans will receive a free Interrail this year to travel around Europe and discover its beauty. It’s starting this year, and it’s just the beginning.

At least 15,000 young Europeans will receive a free Interrail this year to travel around Europe and discover its beauty.

Ever since I started advocating the idea of ​​a free Interrail subscription for the 18th anniversary of #DiscoverEU back in September 2016, I have witnessed two types of reactions. On the part of some European leaders and many people in the so-called “EU bubble” a mixture of indifference and indulgence – as if the European Union has time to spend time on this project, if it has a number of more serious problems on its plate, which also requires attention! There was enthusiasm and a wave of great support from European citizens, young and old. I could see myself and my memories in the testimonies of those who shared with me stories of how these tours of Europe changed their lives. Some of them were happy to write to me, saying how “incredible” this experience was for them and how they will never forget the emotion of “feeling at home when you’re abroad”.

This is the type of travel I am talking about: one that educates young people, opens their minds and forever changes the way we look and perceive each other.

For our opponents to offer young Europeans a subscription to Interrail will be an unnecessary project, too far from the expectations of our fellow citizens. I do not agree with that. According to Generation What poll (2016), every third European has no contact with residents of another EU country. One in four Europeans does not speak a foreign language; on the other hand, one in six Europeans would be willing to learn a new language if they had the opportunity to go abroad (Special Eurobarometer 386, June 2012). Not a stupid idea, the project could open new horizons for many Europeans, including professional ones. For young people who may have disabilities, this can provide a crucial opportunity for the course they are taking in their lives.

This is the type of travel I am talking about: one that educates young people, opens their minds and forever changes the way we look and perceive each other.

The project I am talking about is a project that will not only enable young people from all EU countries to discover the beauty and diversity of our continent, but also to meet and make friends with young people from all over Europe. A project that I believe would encourage them to discover the richness of their differences, while potentially allowing them to realize what unites them, thus fostering a sense – if not of European identity, then at least of common ground.

In short, a project that would have a positive impact from the Erasmus European University student exchange program, but which could benefit all young Europeans, including those who do not follow the curriculum or study path.

The reactions of skeptics and opponents only strengthened my determination.

I called on the European Commission to propose a pilot project for 2018 for 15,000 young people before extending it to all 18-year-old Europeans.

On October 25, MEPs supported the pilot project by allocating 12 million euros. And we managed to persuade the representatives of the EU to confirm this during the negotiations on the EU budget for 2018.

After a year and a half of hard work, we successfully surpassed all chances and showed everyone who predicted that the project would fail that it was about to become a reality. I would never have achieved this without the initiators of the #FreeInterrail initiative and all the prominent figures who joined their campaign, the strong commitment and support of the vast majority of the European Parliament, but also, above all, without the support of all Europeans who contacted my colleagues to express your enthusiasm.

Now we need to continue the struggle to expand the scope of the project and make it a reality for all Europeans who have turned 18 years old.

We must now continue our struggle to scale up the project and make it a reality for all 18-year-old Europeans. That is why I urge all young people who will receive a free Interrail ticket this year to join us in this crusade. As you travel this summer, share your experiences, your discoveries with the hashtag #DiscoverEU, and let everyone know so more people can take advantage of your experiences next time!

The European Union is, of course, a serious matter. But it is much more than a legislative machine. It’s also about emotions and connections. By promoting dialogue and mutual discovery between young Europeans, we will give the best answer to all populists and other prophets of hatred: friendship between peoples, diversity as wealth and openness.

Manfred Weber, Member of the European Parliament, has been the leader of the EPP Group since 2014, the largest group in the European Parliament.

To learn more about #DiscoverEU, visit www.youdiscover.eu and jump on board.

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