Sunday

21st Jul 2019

Train scare prompts talks on EU security

  • Any response to the foiled attack cannot undermine Schengen passport-free travel (Photo: Paolo Margari)

Transport ministers are set to discuss security measures at train stations at their next meeting in October, after a gunman boarded the international high-speed Thalys train in Brussels.

The European Commission on Monday (24 August) said it wants security to be a top issue at the October meeting and is willing to propose new legislative measures, if necessary.

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“We have shown that we are politically willing to discuss potential legislative measures at the Transport Council in October,” Jakub Adamowicz, a commission spokesman, told reporters in Brussels.

But the commission said any EU-level response to the foiled attack cannot undermine the Schengen passport-free travel between the 26 participating member states.

“We have to take measures which are necessary but we don’t want to overreact, which could turn out to be counter-productive, so we have to respect proportionality”, said Adamowicz.

Ayoub el-Khazzani, a 26-year old Moroccan, boarded the Thalys train armed with AK-47 assault rifle and automatic pistol on Friday at the Midi station in Brussels.

Passengers wrestled the suspected Islamist to the ground as he was loading the assault rifle after the train crew barricade itself in an adjoining staff room.

Thalys noted that two of its agents had also assisted in taking down el-Khazzani.

Adapting Schengen

Charles Michel, Belgium’s prime minister, has since called for an emergency meeting with France, Germany and the Netherlands.

His office said the talks would revolve around ideas on "how to reinforce anti-terrorist measures, notably identity and baggage controls”.

Michel in a tweet was quoted as suggesting that new border control rules may need to be adopted despite the Schengen rules.

His spokesperson Frederic Cauderlier told this website that the controls won’t undermine Schengen but must be adapted to confront the reality of terrorism.

“Yes to the free movement of people but No to free movement of people armed with Kalashnikovs,” he said.

Cauderlier said neighbouring countries like Germany, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands “tell us the same thing, they are conscious that we must reinforce border control checks. But let me very clear, we do not question Schengen.”

He said borders won’t be closed and no X-ray machines will be installed at train stations. Instead, he said only spot-check controls will be imposed.

“It is impossible for us to check the IDs of every passenger in trains or planes inside the Schengen zone,” he said.

Sensitive issue

He said French-Belgian cooperation will also get a boost, including sending in more police patrols in Paris and Brussels stations.

The issue of identity checks is sensitive given the strict EU rules on free movement.

Systematic border control checks are outlawed but member states can, in case of serious threat to internal or public security, reintroduce them for a period of up to 30 days.

“Security checks that are conducted for the purpose of railway security can be compatible within the Schengen framework if they do not have an effect equivalent to border checks,” said EU commission spokesperson Christian Wiegand.

Asked to specify, Wiegand said any police border checks must be targeted on known actions.

He said ID checks on trains are possible but only “if they do not have an equivalent to border checks.”

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