BRUSSELS: The European Union on Monday rejected a proposal to give all 18-year-olds free InterRail passes as too expensive, saying it would instead subsidise some travel for a few thousand students.
Up to 7,000 European students will get bus, train or plane tickets to any EU country under a plan unveiled by the European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union.
But the commission said a suggestion by the European Parliament to give out InterRail passes, beloved of young backpackers travelling across Europe, would have cost far too much.
“The commission has estimated that such an initiative would cost between 1.2 billion euros and 1.6 billion euros a year. This kind of funding is currently not available,” it said in a statement.
The new scheme will cost just a small fraction of that — 2.5 million euros, the commission said.
The centre-right European People’s Party, the biggest group in the EU Parliament, called the decision a “missed opportunity”.
It had been a champion of the proposal when MEPs voted in favour of it last year.
“The European Commission could have used the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome to present an original and ambitious proposal that will make people enthusiastic about Europe again,” EPP chief Manfred Weber said.l
But he said that the free InterRail plan was “far from being dead” and that his group would continue to push for it.
Launched in 1972, InterRail passes were initially designed for young passengers but are now available for all age groups.
The commission said the scaled-down “Move2Learn, Learn2Move” programme would give 5,000 to 7,000 students an entitlement for tickets worth 350 to 530 euros.
The students will be picked from schools taking part in an online project matching students and teachers for joint projects across Europe.