Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
WEDNESDAY 10 JULY 2002
HE M DANIEL
M DENIS DOUTÉ
40. Good afternoon, your Excellency and M Douté.
Can I welcome you most warmly this afternoon and say that we are
very privileged that you have been prepared to come and give us
evidence. This is a matter of great concern to both our countries
and I know we can rely upon you to assist us in reaching a possible
solution. May I ask M Douté first, given the numbers of
illegal immigrants who are gaining access to trains and the fact
that the number has been increasing since January 2001, why has
it taken so long for SNCF and RFF to install fencing at Fréthun?
(M Douté) Good afternoon, madam Chairman, ladies
and gentlemen. I try to address this Committee in English but
I may have to have some words translated if needed.
41. Of course.
(M Douté) In fact, the number of illegal immigrants
trying to cross over has been increasing since 1999. Works started
in that year, including the fencing. The original fencing was
already there, just as on any other yard but not more, and works
were decided in the year 2000 for improving a higher fence and
intrusion detectors and so on. In France this is paid for by RFF,
as you mentioned, and so works started there and then and were
almost completed by the year 2001 except that from then on it
was becoming almost impossible to complete the works because everything
which was done by day was taken away by night by the immigrants.
42. Why was it not possible to get the same
result at Fréthun that you have at Coquelles, because the
terminal at Coquelles is very effectively protected?
(M Douté) The terminal of Eurotunnelis
that what you are saying?
(M Douté) In fact, the two terminals are very
different in the sense that in Eurotunnel it is a closed operation.
There is only one rail access and this is towards the tunnel,
whereas on the Fréthun yard you have regional passenger
lines coming along to Fréthun and also you have access
from Calais, from Lille and also to Boulogne and to the tunnel,
so it is a very open area and in fact, and this is of course very
important, including for the future, that means that even if there
is a very high security around that yard (and this is what we
are experiencing right now) clandestines go to other places, even
far from Fréthun, to try to break in.
44. Then may I ask you, your Excellency, what
is the attitude of the French Government towards the disruption
of services at Fréthun?
(M Bernard) Madam Chairman, the French Government
is even more preoccupied than you could imagine on this question
which is as painful for us as it is for Great Britain. The situation
is the following. As Britain is not a member of Schengen we are
supposed, according to the Schengen rules, to control people coming
into the Schengen area but we are not supposed to control people
going out of the Schengen area. As we consider that our relations
are close with Britain it gives us the responsibility of helping
and avoiding clandestine immigrants coming to Britain and so we
are controlling more and more and with extreme care the flow of
clandestine immigrants and asylum seekers in order to help Britain.
Many efforts have been made already, as you noted yourself, madam,
in Coquelles. We are now facing the problem of Fréthun
because as things go the problem goes elsewhere and so Coquelles
has been secured by Eurotunnel. We are nowSNCF in particular
and RFFworking hard to secure Calais Fréthun which
is more difficult. However, one must not be candid. Even if we
were to make Calais Fréthun safe, if we do not find ways
and means to stop the flow, immigrants will go elsewhere and they
are already doing so. For instance, now that they know that in
Fréthun it is going to become impossible, then they go
to the highway which is close to there and they jump in the lorries
and trucks elsewhere. As you see, we are ready to co-operate as
far as possible with Britain on this subject and the two Ministers
of the Interior have already met on 25 June and will meet again
on 12 July in order to find an appropriate solution but, as it
may occur to you, madam, the real problem is far more important
and far-reaching than the simple problem of security in Fréthun.
45. Yes, except of course, Monsieur l"Ambassadeur,
we must start where we are, not where we wish to be, and Fréthun
must be a very important player in that sense. Is the French Government
confident that it will be able to produce some kind of practical
timetable in these discussions with the British Government on
methods that will change the situation at Fréthun?
(M Bernard) I think that things are pretty much going
their way on this subject and, as I have been told, the fence
around Fréthun will be completed if I am not mistaken by
the end of July. Subsequently, in the following weeks, cameras
will be put in and other devices of detection. Lights will be
installed and also an access for the police forces to be able
to come closer to the gates so we have to build some kind of a
road. All this is going on but I think one has to pay attention
to the fact that we cannot, from one day to another, easily satisfy
two objectives like these; ie one is to make freight traffic free,
which is an objective that we adhere to, of course, but it is
a fact that we are also requested to prevent the clandestines
from jumping on the trains. We think that this also the British
Government wishes, so we are trying to do both but it is difficult.
46. Your Excellency, could I clarify what you
said in answer to the Chairman's question about the provisions
of Schengen? Can I be absolutely clear, that you and your Government
obviously stand by the provisions in the original Treaty of Rome
that there should be absolute free movement of goods, people and
services throughout the European Union?
(M Bernard) We totally agree to this principle. I
was just saying, madam, that we are trying to complete two objectives
that are difficult to reconcile and which are put forward by the
British Government. One is to leave free access to freight trains
and the other one is to prevent clandestines from jumping on the
47. So I have not understood you correctly that
you do not wish the Schengen agreement to compromise the original
(M Bernard) You mean to introduce the Schengen agreement
into the European Union provisions? It is a different treaty because
there are not the same members.
Miss McIntosh: I appreciate that. I simply want
an open-ended commitment from you that free movement of goods
is still of paramount importance.
48. Does Schengen override the provision in
the Treaty of Rome to allow the free movement of goods and people?
(M Bernard) I do not think that you have to organise
some kind of priority between the texts. There is a text that
organises the Treaty of Rome trades within the European Union
and you have another text with not the same membership which organises
circulation of people within Schengen. I do not think that we
have to establish a hit parade between the two.
49. The British Government have agreed to make
a payment from our Strategic Rail Authority to improve the fence
at the terminal in Fréthun. Could I ask in connection with
that what guarantee the French Government have given to the British
Government that once the security fence is improved, and we have
heard that that is expected to be completed by the end of July,
the level of rail freight services will return to the 100 rail
freight services each way each week by September? What guarantee
have your Government given our Government?
(M Bernard) Madam, it will be on this item simply
that the French Government can only give you its will to do its
best efforts. Regarding the expenses incurred, I think I should
ask the representative of SNCF to answer that question because
there was some misunderstanding. The real situation is that the
present fence, which is being completed by the end of July, will
be, if I am not mistaken, financed totally by SNCF and it will
be only thereafter, particularly for sophisticated detection devices,
millimetric whatever it is, and cameras that the British Government
or the British entities will be ready to co-operate.
Miss McIntosh: Could I clarify that?
50. M Douté, could you confirm that is
(M Douté) Yes, madam Chairman. We had a meeting
last week with the Strategic Rail Authority in Paris and we talked
about three things. The first one is the current works which are
under way, including all that the Ambassador describes. This includes
the fencing which will be done by the end of July. This is entirely
financed on the French side. What we proposed last week to the
SRA were two things. The first was to provide some testing devices
for human presence in wagons because for the wagons arriving at
Fréthun we have overall at least one hour per train to
stay in the yard for, first, change of locomotive, second, to
check that there is no terrorist action so there is security just
before crossing the tunnel, and this has been of course made since
the beginning of the tunnel, and the third thing is to check within
each wagon that there is no clandestine. This is regarding the
third issue which is checking that there is no clandestine on
board the wagons, and we were told that in the UK there were more
sophisticated devices than we have in France. We proposed that
tests be done and financed by the SRA and, if considered workable
and efficient, such devices could be displayed in Fréthun.
51. So you are saying that it would be restricted
to the introduction of very specific electronic equipment of the
kind that can be used to check from outside whether there is a
human presence within the container?
(M Douté) Yes, that is right, madam Chairman.
This was the first proposal we made. The second one is to invest
in studies and changes in the locomotives, the class 92s, which
are used to haul the trains. These locomotives cannot go beyond
Fréthun, so the proposal on this will take more time, which
would be to modify these locomotives so that the trains would
be able to start from Lille or Lens and not stop at Fréthun.
52. How long will that programme of modification
(M Douté) The original study was for six months
and then, depending on getting all the parts, it could be up to
two years to change over the locomotives, so it is clearly an
investment to improve in any case the number of trains going through
the tunnel and ease the operation.
53. But the assumption is that if they started
from a closed yard it would be easier to defend. Is that the assumption,
that if they began further down, at Lille, the depot would be
a closed depot where you could have more control?
(M Douté) Not necessarily, but you would remove
very far from Fréthun in different places the possibility
for clandestines to go on board.
54. We have been told by our Minister for Transport
that we are contributing the full cost of 7.5 million euros, which
is approximately £4.8 million. I assume there is only one
fencewe are talking about one security fence. We have been
told by our Minister that the Strategic Rail Authority is contributing
to the building of that fence, that the works will cost a total
of around five million pounds and it is to increase security at
the Fréthun rail freight terminal. Are you saying that
is not the case, that the contribution from the United Kingdom
is to a separate fence completely and to separate surveillance
(M Douté) I will simply answer to the best
of my knowledge because SNCF is not in charge of the works and
not in charge of its financing. As I mentioned, we decided together
what works will be done and then the decision is made and paid
by RFF. There are two fences. As mentioned already, they will
be finished by the end of July. The overall total cost is 7.5
million euros for the fencing plus many other things. As far as
I know, at least up to now, there was no British financing in
55. But it has been agreed, Ambassador, that
there will be a contribution to that.
(M Bernard) If I refer to the conversation that took
place between the two Ministers of Interior of France and Britain,
the idea was very generally referred to, not in detail. It was
simply said on either side that we could co-operate financially
to do the works. That was all that was said, in front of me anyway.
56. So there is no guarantee that the fence
will be built, there is no commitment from Britain to contribute
to that fence, there is no guarantee that the level of service
will return to the level it should be at by September?
(M Bernard) There is a will expressed by the British
authorities that they would contribute to assist the French entities
in charge of that. I would not be in a position to say in detail
what that means. There have been, since the meeting of the Ministers
of the Interior, two meetings of senior civil servants in Paris
and in London and there will be another meeting with the two Ministers
on 12 July, and I think that will be an occasion to clear up the
matter, but I cannot go any further to my knowledge.
57. Your Excellency, would France agree for
UK officials to deal with asylum applications in France?
(M Bernard) It is an idea that we are not opposed
to but I understood that this was creating a problem for the British
58. If the British authorities requested this
would you agree to it?
(M Bernard) I think that in the discussions we have
discussed this idea in order to make a clear distinction, which
is an absolute necessity, between the true asylum seekers and
those who present a demand for asylum when they are only in search
of a jobeconomic migrants. In the course of the different
conversations that we have had with the British authorities this
question arose and we said why not establish a clear distinction
between those two types of people and why not examine the idea
of doing that distinction in France. So far the British authorities
to my knowledge have answered that they were studying that but
that this created problems for them, or at least they wanted to
look into the matter a little more closely.
59. How could it be ascertained whether asylum
claims were well founded or not without interviewing the people
(M Bernard) You are right.