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Privatised Eurostar security will raise terror risk, says French union

Baggage security checks at Paris Gare du Nord terminal are set to be outsourced, but customs officers fear a threat to safety and increased costs

Security at the Gare du Nord station has been provided by Douanes border officials since the Eurostar’s launch in 1994 Pic: EQRoy / Joseph Tarr / Shutterstock

Plans to outsource luggage security checks to a private company at the Paris Gare du Nord Eurostar terminal could put passengers at risk of terrorist attacks, customs officers have warned.

Security at the Gare du Nord station has been provided by Douanes border officials since the Eurostar’s launch in 1994.

The new plans would affect luggage and security checks carried out before boarding the Eurostar trains.

Right time to privatise

A Douanes spokesman said: “The new appearance of a border with the United Kingdom and the end of the health crisis are two events favouring such a change.”

The increase in visitors expected for the 2024 Paris Olympics is another factor.

Union says customs agents will be halved

Solidaires Douanes, the border agents’ main trade union, called the project “explosive” in a press release featuring an image of a sinking ship with “Security?” written on the side.

The union questioned the government’s decision to focus on “financial profit” and argued that transitioning to a private company will mean a lower quality of service, higher ticket prices, and an increased risk of terrorist attacks.

Co-general secretary Fabien Milin asked: “What is the logic behind this, other than purposely generating understaffing?”

He said the reduction in Douanes staff has reached a “critical point”, with the number of agents due to be cut in half, from 120 in 2020 to 60 by 2024, under government plans.

The Douanes said the decision to reorganise border activities is in line with what has been done in airports and seaports, where security checks are already privatised.

Read more: Drugs, counterfeit goods and fraud: French customs report rises

Privatisation is ‘dangerous bet’

Mr Milin fears the policy could pose a threat to safety. He recalled the chaos that unfolded at the Stade de France in Paris for the 2022 Champions League Final.

Several stewards and security staff publicly denounced the conditions under which they were hired, often through posts on Facebook or from private security companies, with very few background checks and little security knowledge.

Solidaires Douanes has raised concerns that – unlike French customs officials – the private staff will be unarmed and untrained, a “dangerous bet” that could result in the “non-detection of weapons” or the “accidental triggering of explosives”. 

It warned that private staff would not be able to respond as effectively to an imminent terrorist threat, with millions of travellers set to pass through Gare du Nord for the 2023 Rugby World Cup and 2024 summer Olympics.

“If the private company is responsible, what would be the details of their insurance policy?

“Considering the tremendous value of the infrastructure at stake, one might wonder how much could be paid and under what conditions,” said Solidaires Douanes in its press release, highlighting the fact that any major incident in the Channel Tunnel would bring all traffic to a halt.

Outsourcing expected by 2024

The price of Eurostar tickets will increase as the cost of security from a private company will be transferred to the customers, Mr Milin said.

Solidaires Douanes also warned Eurostar that private staff “will have the right to strike, whereas customs staff can be compelled to work”.

Read more: UK Eurostar security workers to strike in lead-up to Christmas

While no terrorist attack has taken place at the Gare du Nord, most people remember the 2015 Thalys train attack in which French, American and British passengers disarmed a terrorist.

Last February, two police officers killed a man threatening them with a knife at Gare du Nord but this was not classified as a terrorist attack.

Solidaires Douanes said it expects the change to happen in 2023, or 2024 at the latest. No call for contract bids has been opened yet. 

Eurostar said it had “no information to share about the subject”.

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