What if the Europeans never explored anything

A third of all Europeans have never been abroad

Almost 40% of European citizens have never been to any other country in the European Union than their own. This is especially common in countries in Southeast Europe. But even in countries like Italy, Spain or Poland, more than 50% of the population have never left the national borders.

It is about 190 million people who, despite the ubiquitous reports of citizens' freedom of movement within former national borders, are virtually excluded from that freedom. What do these people care about Erasmus or the end of roaming? How can they ever take advantage of the single currency and the abolition of border controls? But it is precisely on these goals and their realization that the European Union has based a large part of its policy and its attempts to close the “gap with the citizens” for decades.

In reality, many people are left untouched by European politics and the issue itself. It only affects the 34% of “integrated” citizens who travel from one EU country to another at least once a year - a kind of elite that focuses almost exclusively on Western Europe.

All the others seem to be people who are receiving less attention from the European institutions, so that there are hardly any statistics on them. It is paradoxical that the best data available on non-travelers are contained in a research into the end of roaming, which it certainly does not concern them.

Even once the European Union takes care of these people, it tends to classify them as recipients of local development policy and vulnerable because of exclusion. In doing so, they are pushed into a rather subordinate role and not treated as full European citizens. In contrast to their compatriots, who are more inclined to explore other countries. It is therefore not surprising that these people see the European Union as something foreign and distant, which they do not understand and which they should beware of.

But why do so few people travel across Europe's borders? It is clear that living in a very large or rather isolated country can be a deterrent from going abroad. The geographical location counts, but is not enough to explain the reluctance to travel abroad. For a Hungarian, for example, it would be very easy to travel to another EU country - but only a few Hungarians have ever done it. Even economic factors are not enough to justify this reluctance in view of the now very low travel costs within Europe.

But there is certainly a cultural and generational factor that makes cross-border travel difficult. A moderate increase in mobility can be observed among young people, but not in all countries. In 2016, only 1% of young Romanians under the age of 24 spent at least one night abroad - a proportion that is only slightly higher than that of their grandparents.

At the suggestion of Manfred Weber, the chairman of the People's Party in the European Parliament, the European Union launched the DiscoverEU project this year: 18-year-olds are offered an Interrail ticket with which they can travel freely abroad and thus other European countries get to know little (application deadline is June 26th). Given the bigger picture, this initiative is more important and valuable than you might think.

But even this initiative only benefits the minority of young people who are willing to travel abroad. One of the criteria for ticket issuance is that the candidates relate to the EU. In addition, the proportion of tickets available is proportional to the number of residents: Belgium is entitled to the same number of tickets as Greece, although, statistically speaking, young Belgians travel abroad 15 times more often than their Greek peers.