August 29, 2015 / 5:24 PM / in 2 years

European ministers agree more railway security, urge Schengen changes

PARIS (Reuters) - European ministers and officials agreed on Saturday to reinforce railway security, particularly on international lines, and urged the European Commission to amend Schengen border codes after the foiled attack on a train in northern France.

Belgian police officers stand guard on a platform at the Thalys high-speed train terminal at Brussels Midi/Zuid railway station, August 22, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Just over a week after passengers subdued a gunman on an Amsterdam-Paris express, interior and transport ministers from countries, including France, Germany, Spain and Italy, met in Paris to discuss improving security on cross-border trains.

“We are determined to pursue our cooperation to ... prevent, detect and better fight violent acts that radicalized individuals may want to commit on European Union soil,” said a joint statement read out by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

Cazeneuve outlined four key measures, ranging from more identity and baggage controls on trains and at stations “wherever and whenever necessary” to increasing the number of mixed police patrols on international services.

He said there would be an effort to ensure international tickets bore passengers’ names and that railway police would have access to a database of “pertinent” information.

“Our aim is that concrete and ambitious safety and security measures ... are adopted by the different players at European level,” he said.

EU officials say the EU has supported member states in developing better security at stations, including pilot schemes for new technologies which can help detect weapons and explosives without the lengthy procedures familiar at airports.

Concerned about security threats and illegal migration, some European governments are considering amending the Schengen border code, which eliminated systematic frontier controls across much of Europe.

However, the European Commission, the EU executive which enforces the Schengen code, insists it sees no need to change the rules, either to improve security or control migration.

“We invite the Commission ... to examine a targeted amendment to the Schengen frontier code allowing controls where necessary and when necessary,” Cazeneuve said without elaborating.

EU officials say governments are free to check for, say, weapons, and Schengen permits them to check identities, including at frontiers, if there are specific security threats. Germany, for example, imposed border controls when it hosted the G7 summit in June.

Talk of more sweeping curbs in the Schengen zone - which excludes Britain but includes non-EU members Norway and Switzerland - troubles business leaders, who see the speed and ease of moving people around Europe as a boon for the economy.

EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said that while security was the first priority there should not be an over-reaction.

“It is essential that, as far as possible, public transport remains open and easily accessible. Security must be proportionate to the threat,” she said.

Reporting by John Irish and Jean-Baptiste Vey; editing by Andrew Roche

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