Three officers of the French Police Nationale boarded TGV 9702 at Perpignan at around 11am on 31st May, reaching my seat at 1106. The TGV was still stationary in Perpignan at this time, due to an obstacle on the tracks further north that held the train in the station approximately 30 minutes after its scheduled 1051 departure time.

In Perpignan two TGV sets are coupled together – the one in which I was travelling had arrived from Barcelona, and another empty set is added at Perpignan. The doors of my set had nevertheless been opened for passengers to disembark and, importantly, embark (at least 4 passengers came and took their places in my carriage), meaning not all passengers on the train were arriving from Spain. I cannot vouch for other carriages, but all passengers in my carriage (number 16, upper floor) were controlled, and the police had boarded the train more than 5 minutes before they controlled me as I had seen them on the platform. On this, once more, we are back to the headache of what is systematic, or not.

The conversation with the French Police Nationale Officer was as follows. It was conducted in French, and is translated into English here:

Police Nationale (PN): Passport?

(I pass him my German driving license)

Jon (J): That’s acceptable isn’t it?

PN: No.

J: It’s acceptable as an identity document in France.

PN: No.

J: Can you please explain to me why it is not acceptable?

PN: It’s a driving license. It does not state your nationality, mister.

J: On the list of identity documents within Schengen it’s acceptable. Can you please explain to me the French law of why this is unacceptable?

PN: You need to justify your nationality.

J: OK, I will show you my passport as soon as you give me your name and the reason for this control. Because you are not conforming to the French law here.

PN: I am going to explain something to you, as you seem to know something. Here you are in the station of Perpignan, an international station.

J: Yes.

PN: Yes, I’ll finish. Then it will all be in order. Then we will not have to spend 10 years on the polemics. My control [cites a number*] gives me the right to control whoever I want, wherever I want, in international stations, and are submitted to criteria. In the station of Perpignan if I want to control, I control.

J: Yes, yes. So here you are. This (pointing to my driving license) is an identity document issued by a Member State of the European Union.

PN: Do you want to have to get out of the train? Or do you want to continue your journey?

J: Indeed. And I also want that you respect European Law and Schengen.

PN: But yes, it is Schengen.

J: Yes, it is Schengen, and that is an identity document that is acceptable in France, mister.

PN: No that does not prove your nationality.

J: But this gives you…

PN: I will explain to you. You can very easily have a German driving license while being Chinese.

J: And you can call your centre with my details.

PN: No. It is for you to prove your nationality.

J: No. Because you are exaggerating your power under French law in terms of what identity document is required.

PN: You don’t understand?

J: Yes, I understand very well.

PN: I will explain you the law.

J: I asked you that, but you have not explained the law. And unfortunately I have no internet connection here to find the law for you.

PN: We will stop. Do you have an identity document or a passport?

J: Yes, I have an identity document. You have it there in your hand.

PN: Do you have an identity document?

J: That is an identity document.

PN: Do you have another identity document?

J: You have an identity document that conforms in your hand.

(another officer arrives, and says that it is not conforming)

PN: So get up then.

J: OK, so I will show you my passport.

PN: So you have been screwing me (niquer) for no reason. And in addition you are English! You see! And you have a German driving license. You could carry on screwing me for ten years.

(gives me my passport back)

So what is going on here, other than a French police officer being rude and threatening?

The rules on identity documents within France are to be found here. This makes it clear that a driving license is an adequate form of identification, and as Perpignan is the first station after the border that conforms to the Schengen rules.

However the important part is this:

Elle peut présenter un titre d’identité (carte nationale d’identité, passeport ou permis de conduire), une autre pièce (document d’état civil avec filiation, livret militaire, carte d’électeur ou carte vitale), voire un témoignage.

L’étranger doit prouver qu’il est en séjour légal en France.

So how can that work?

My driving license, as the police officer rightly remarked, does not have any nationality information on it. But unless French driving licenses contain nationality information, a French citizen with a French driving license would not be able to prove any more than a British person with a German driving license would be able to prove, meaning the two paragraphs above are contradictory.

To put it another way, it cannot be the case that a driving license is OK for a French person in France, but not OK for a German or a British person in France, even if the driving license were French – that would surely be a discrimination under EU law? I also do not understand why the officer could not have behaved like his German counterpart did in Puttgarden – my driving license gives my name and date of birth, and with that they can easily identify me.

Once more I am left annoyed and bewildered by all of this. The French rules seem contradictory and the spirit, if not the letter of the law of Schengen, once more seems to be called into question.

* – the number of the control has been redacted, and I noted the number displayed on the officer’s lapel badge. Both of these will be added to the official complaint to the European Commission and to whoever a complaint should be addressed in France.


  1. All progress depends on the unreasonable man…

  2. FrChick

    I checked my French driving licence, and indeed there is no mention of nationality, only the date and place of birth (which is a proxy for nationality for most people in France, but not all!)

  3. Ah ah, classic French police. Reminds of this parody:

  4. klsjlkjgaljsa

    I just took a look at the Swedish rules:
    – Citizens of Schengen countries do not need to carry or own any identity documents, except when crossing external Schengen borders.
    – Citizens of non-Schengen countries need to carry a passport at all times (subject to exceptions).
    – If a policeman has a particular reason to suspect that an unidentified person is wanted and needs to be arrested, then the policeman may hold the person in custody until the person’s identity becomes known. If you carry an identity document, then your identity may become known a lot faster than if you don’t.

    Is this an example of illegal discrimination of citizens of the six EU countries which are not part of Schengen? Am I missing something in the law?

  5. @FrChick – ah, that’s interesting! Because UK and German driving licenses do not have a place of birth… So while some conclusions could be drawn from this, that nevertheless does not mean that a person is French.

    @Lionel – merci! 🙂

    @klsjlkjgaljsa – no, I think the same would apply to all EU citizens in Sweden.

  6. Antonia

    I think @klsjlkjgaljsa has a point. For moving around Schengen, surely the distinction should be EU/non-EU, rather than Schengen/non-Schengen. If you are British you have a right to live in Germany and if you live in Germany you have a right to travel to France and Spain without showing identity. If the Swedish rules are described correctly above, that would suggest that in Sweden, a British person is not treated as a Swede or a German, which surely is contrary to non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality?

  7. klsgjlkajsglksajk

    It says that “L’étranger doit prouver qu’il est en séjour légal en France.” Is it possible to have a German driving licence, if you do not have the right to be in France? It says that Chinese people can have a German driving licence, but this would only apply to Chinese people who live in Germany, would it? Those Chinese people would always have a residence permit of some kind and would therefore be able to visit France. It’s different if a Chinese person has a British driving licence as a Chinese person living in Britain still has to get a Schengen visa.

  8. You are the boss, Jon. Again, may I express my admiration on this. The French police HATES for anyone to stand up to them, and will certainly be as threatening as they possibly can. It is shameful.

  9. zjlkgjaslkjg

    Have you seen ? How will this affect you? It looks as if it will be getting more difficult to travel far away in the future…

  10. So now I do have a problem because all driving licenses issued by member states of the Union do NOT show nationality of the holder… decision of the European Commission following arguments submitted primarily by UK and Ireland and perhaps other non Schengen EU states

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