EU politicians think Europe has an identity problem, and it is that young people are not European enough. The solution, of course, is to spend billions on a new program, this time to provide 18-year-olds with free train fare to travel across the continent.
But according to politicians, “Inter-railing” could be the key to creating a positive perception of the E.U. among younger generations who already benefit from student exchange programs and open borders. Their hope is that participants will feel “European” after coming back from their trips to their home countries, and less “German” or “Italian,” for instance.
An Italian who fancies himself Italian. This is what led to the rise of Mussolini, right?
For EU politicians facing increasing hostility toward their rule, this is a creative idea. They believe that if young people come to equate the continent of Europe (i.e., all the nations that make it up) with the government of Europe (an unelected body of officials in Brussels), then that would be a victory for the EU. Their optimism, however, is based on the idea that “nationalism” has nothing to do with the EU’s problems and everything to do with citizens’ problems, namely that they are blinded by prejudice, which prevents them from seeing just how great the EU is.
Spending billions on a program in an attempt to boost their own popularity might only alienate those who are beginning to doubt the value of the international body that has lately been overruling its member states. And diverting resources to a travel program might also seem laughable to the young people who are struggling with sky-high unemployment.
Those who think that antipathy toward people of others nationalities (the specter of “dangerous nationalism”) is driving dissatisfaction with the EU are blind to its shortcomings. No matter how many times the media say it, dislike of “the other” did not lead to Brexit, and frustration with Brussels is not just a code for expressing xenophobia.
Eighteen-year-olds would surely enjoy free travel across the beautiful continent on the taxpayers’ dime, but it would not cleanse them of their Greekness or their Frenchness. If they came back loving the Czech Republic even more than they did before, they might still have serious problems with the bureaucratic and unaccountable EU government taking more power away from the voters of its member states.