Exclusive: Britons likely to be worst hit by demands for more rigorous border controls in wake of Paris attacks
All EU citizens would face much tighter and systematic ID checks when leaving or entering Europe’s 26-country free-travel area, under new demands France is making of its EU partners following the terror attacks in Paris.
If endorsed by EU interior ministers on Friday, the French demands would severely affect Britons travelling to and from the continent because the crackdown would apply not to the internal but to the external borders of the free-travel zone known as Schengen, of which Britain is not a part. The Franco-British border is an external Schengen border.
A three-page list of demands, obtained by the Guardian, drawn up by the French government for an emergency meeting of EU interior ministers on Friday, also calls for the rapid adoption of measures retaining passenger information on everyone travelling by air within the EU, a battery of new curbs on firearms sales and trading, a clampdown on and monitoring of cash transactions and other means of non-electronic payment, and greater intelligence sharing across the EU.
The French proposals say all EU citizens entering or leaving Schengen should be checked against databases systematically for potential terrorist links. As a result the check-in times for flights to mainland Europe, and Eurostar traffic from London to Paris and Brussels, could be dramatically increased.
Because of the slowness of EU efforts to enact some of these measures, the French paper voices exasperation and calls for the policies to be established as quickly as possible. If the call for storing air passengers’ data is not satisfied quickly, the French warn, national governments will go ahead on their own outside the EU framework.
France has also urged the deployment of “rapid response teams” of European border guards to the Greek-Turkish frontier, which Athens has been resisting, and the systematic vetting of all of the hundreds of thousands of refugees entering the EU from Turkey to try to ensure that potential terrorists are not exploiting refugee routes into Europe.
“Immediate, reinforced, systematic and coordinated controls are needed on the external borders for people enjoying the right of free movement in the Schengen area,” the document says. “Counter-terrorism databases have to be consulted systematically.”
This rarely happens at present for EU citizens, meaning “foreign fighters” with EU passports – all of the known attackers in Paris, including the alleged mastermind, a Belgian – could slip through the borders easily. The new measures will mean most EU citizens will be subject to long waits going through passport control when entering or leaving the Schengen zone of 26 countries and that most Europeans will be vetted for possible “terrorist” connections.
Because of the mass arrivals of refugees, the French insist that “people arriving in Europe are the object of strict security vetting”.
The French priority appears to be the adoption of what is known as the passenger name record (PNR) system, retaining personal data for at least a year on anyone taking flights within the EU. There has been stalemate over these proposals for more than a year, with infighting between the European commission, the European parliament and national governments.
New EU rules on firearms sales are “indispensable and urgent”, the French document says. On Wednesday, the commission in Brussels said it would soon propose detailed regulations banning the sale of semi-automatic weapons to private persons. Theresa May, the UK home secretary, has also been calling for an EU crackdown on the firearms business.
The new rules “should improve the traceability of firearms on EU territory by adopting a common marking system, more rigorous framing of internet firearms sales, banning 3D printouts for firearms on the internet”, and the electronic tagging of firearms to facilitate the tracking of a weapon’s lifecycle anywhere in the EU.
The French paper points the finger at the countries of former Yugoslavia as the main source of, say, Kalashnikovs in EU markets, and calls on those countries “to prevent and severely curtail the trafficking in firearms”.
On Tuesday, France broke new ground in the EU by invoking a never-used clause in the EU treaty triggering obligatory mutual defence among the 28 member states. The proposals for the interior ministers on Friday would represent, if accepted and implemented, further pan-European policies in the field of counter-terrorism, an area that is almost entirely in the hands of national governments.
The French paper also calls for greater transnational cooperation on judicial cases, on sharing of criminal records, and on common European policies to clamp down on terrorism funding, including the freezing of assets and bank accounts, curbs on cash transactions and other non-electronic means of payment such as monitoring international gold and artworks movements.
This article was written by Ian Traynor in Brussels, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 18th November 2015 18.20 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010