Four French police boarded the front carriage of the 0749 Paris Gare de Lyon – Milano Garibaldi TGV at St Jean de Maurienne on 9th October. The train was running with a delay of around 55 minutes, hence departing from St Jean at around 1230. At 1240 the four police entered the second class carriage in which I was sitting. At least eight passengers were sat between the entrance to the carriage and my seat, and every single one of the passengers was controlled before the police reached my seat. Below is a translation, word for word into English, of the conversation that took place in French. The conversation was with one male policeman (‘MP’ below) and a female policewoman (‘FP’ below).
MP: Passport, please? Identity card?
Me: I would like to know, sir, why you have controlled all the passengers in the train. This is the Schengen article (I show him a printout of Article 21 that I carry with me – see end of blog post for the full text, legislation here). France and Italy are in the Schengen area. How are you conforming to the Schengen rules? Would you like to explain please?
MP: I would like a passport please
Me: I would like to know how Schengen applies to this.
MP: You want to get out of the train? I can take you to the services?
Me: We are in the Schengen zone. I have my passport here…
MP: Your identity card, sir? This is a police control.
(I hand him the passport as his manner becomes threatening)
Me: I would just like to know how this conforms to Schengen.
FP: What do you do in England?
Me: No, it’s not that.
FP: There [meaning in England] it’s the same.
Me: This is Article 21 of Schengen. One cannot have systematic controls at the frontier that have, as their objective, border controls. What you are doing here, in the train, is exactly a border control. So how are you conforming with Schengen?
FP: You haven’t learnt it by heart, the whole Schengen book. It’s like this (she holds up fingers to indcate how fat it is) the Schengen code. Do you know how many pages it is, sir?
Me: Yes, I do know, because I give courses in European law
FP: We have the right to control at the borders
Me: No, you do not have the right to control.
FP: Yes, yes.
Me: Explain how you are in conformity with the Schengen rules, with the four points listed here (I point to points (i)-(iv) as shown below)
FP: We control punctually at the border. We absolutely have the right, if not it would not be our job.
Me: So can I take note of your name then?
FP: No, absolutely not.
Me: And you’re noting my name there! (FP was busy scribbling away – my name was noted somewhere)
I have full documentary evidence of the entire exchange, and this will be sent to the European Commission.
So what does all of this tell us?
Firstly, and rather unsurprisingly after my recent experience in Padborg, flagrant breaches of both the principle and letter of the law of Schengen are commonplace.
Secondly, when asked multiple times about the applicability of Schengen, these two French police had no answer to give. Checks are what they have the right to do, and when asked about it, they just become threatening. “We have the right to control at the borders” were the words spoken by the policewoman. They are not even trying to pay lip service to the principles of Schengen.
Thirdly, when confronted by a passenger, they do not know how to behave, and no other passenger in my carriage even raised a question about the checks.
Anyway, I consider this a warm up… I am crossing Austria twice by train later this week, and that will for sure provide more examples of breaches of Schengen.
Full text of Article 21:
Checks within the territory
The abolition of border control at internal borders shall not affect:
(a) the exercise of police powers by the competent authorities of the Member States under national law, insofar as the exercise of those powers does not have an effect equivalent to border checks; that shall also apply in border areas. Within the meaning of the first sentence, the exercise of police powers may not, in particular, be considered equivalent to the exercise of border checks when the police measures:
(i) do not have border control as an objective,
(ii) are based on general police information and experience regarding possible threats to public security and aim, in particular, to combat cross-border crime,
(iii) are devised and executed in a manner clearly distinct from systematic checks on persons at the external borders,
(iv) are carried out on the basis of spot-checks;
(b) security checks on persons carried out at ports and airports by the competent authorities under the law of each Member State, by port or airport officials or carriers, provided that such checks are also carried out on persons travelling within a Member State;
(c) the possibility for a Member State to provide by law for an obligation to hold or carry papers and documents;
(d) the obligation on third-country nationals to report their presence on the territory of any Member State pursuant to the provisions of Article 22 of the Schengen Convention.