Backpacking through Europe has always been an ambition for every generation since the era of mass travel began. Now an initiative called Discover EU, which is sponsored by the European Union, will help many teenagers fulfill the dream of exploring the Old Continent.
Discover EU has designated $14 million to provide 30,000 Interrail passes for 18-year-olds hoping to travel across the Europe. "This project will enable young people from all the EU member states to discover the beauty and diversity of our continent, to get to know and become friends with young people from other countries all over Europe and discover all the richness of their differences,” said Manfred Weber, leader of the European People’s Party. “It will also allow them to realize what unites them and contribute to a feeling of European identity."
The Interrail card enables young tourists to design their own travel plan within any of the 28 European Union member states. The passes will be valid from July to September 2018. The project, which is a response to the negative criticism that the union has received from populist parties, is an attempt to promote Europe as “much more than a law-making machine." The first 15,000 tickets can be requested by EU 18-year-olds through an online application process. The system,which includes a European heritage trivia test, will have quotas to ensure all member nations have a chance to participate.
“The Discover EU initiative is not about a free train ticket. It is about a new vision for Europe, a new way to really involve our young generations in the kind of Europe they want, to make Europe real in their daily lives,” Weber said.
Participants are encouraged to share their experiences on social media, using the hashtag #DiscoverEU. Officials hope to expand the financing of the program to $120 million a year, which would afford 200,000 young people free rail travel.
The European Union, which is set to lose one of its key members once the UK leaves the bloc, is also facing the threat of rising anti-European sentiment across the continent, as a result of austerity measures from Brussels, which have restricted the economies of emerging nations, such as Poland and Hungary.
"Getting to know your neighbours and discovering what Europe is about is so important. Europe is all about you; it's about the people who are so different and yet so similar. It's about getting to know one another. That's why Interrail is great. You get to travel all around Europe and find out how beautiful our continent is," Weber said.