BRUSSELS The European Commission said on Monday it would give free international trips to up to 7,000 school students, stopping far short of a call by the European Parliament to hand InterRail tickets to all the EU's 5.4 million 18-year-olds.
The Commission said it had earmarked 2.5 million euros ($2.7 million) to offer an initial 5,000 young people the chance to visit another European country.
The Parliament last year passed a resolution calling for all 18-year-olds to be given free InterRail tickets, which, typically, are month-long passes allowing young people to travel across Europe's rail network at will.
"The Commission has estimated that such an initiative would cost between 1.2 and 1.6 billion euros ($1.30-$1.74 billion) a year. This kind of funding is currently not available," the Commission said.
The centre-right European People's Party, which led the parliamentary initiative for free rail travel, called the programme announced by the Commission "a missed opportunity".
Participants in the project, a one-off initiative to mark the 30th anniversary of university exchange programme Erasmus, must choose the most environmentally sustainable method of transport, the Commission said.
Young people can apply before June 30 through online exchange programme eTwinning for travel between August 2017 and the end of 2018. Tickets could be worth up to 530 euros ($575).
(Reporting by Farah Salhi; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Andrew Roche)