PARIS – European countries will increase identity checks and baggage controls on trains after American passengers thwarted an attack on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris, France's interior minister said Saturday.
Bernard Cazeneuve said the reinforced ID and bag checks would be carried out on cross-border trains "everywhere it is necessary." He spoke after meeting in Paris with top security and transport officials from nine countries and the European Union in the wake of last week's attack attempt.
At the meeting, officials struggled to find security solutions that protect travelers but don't threaten the continent's border-free travel zone or the extensive rail network that is the lifeblood of European transport.
The suspect in last week's attack had been on the radar of European surveillance, but bought his ticket in cash and showed no ID, before bringing an automatic rifle and a handgun onboard unnoticed. He has been handed preliminary terrorism charges and is in French custody.
The group meeting Saturday pushed for train tickets printed with passengers' names on them, which is currently allowed but not required. In a statement, they floated the possibility of letting train police consult intel databases and better Europe-wide use of criminal record databases.
Such measures, if implemented, would require close monitoring to ensure that they do not constitute border controls, which are illegal under the rule book governing the passport-free area known as the Schengen zone. They could also raise privacy concerns, which have held up Europe-wide legislation on aviation passenger name records.
The ministers called for closer work with the aviation industry, based on its experience in increasing security since the Sept. 11 attacks. They also urged more mixed patrols of international police teams on cross-border trains.
The security officials said there's no way to monitor each passenger and bag without choking the continental train system, which Europeans rely upon heavily.
"We can't do and don't want complete, comprehensive checks on people or luggage in trains in Germany or Europe," German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on the sidelines of the meeting.
He said the main issue is to improve targeted cooperation and the exchange of information on suspicious people.
EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc called free travel within Europe "one of our greatest achievements."
"I hope and I also believe we will find the right solution that will not jeopardize these fundamental rights, and at the same time ensure that the security on a European level is at its best," she told reporters after the meeting.
France alone sees tens of thousands of international train passengers daily, in addition to millions of daily domestic train travelers. The country's national rail authority SNCF is concerned about the cost of additional security, according to a French security official involved in the meeting but not authorized to be publicly named.
Countries involved in Saturday's meeting were France, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.
EU officials were expected to press for the increased use of closed circuit cameras in trains and stations and more metal detectors at entrances. The European Commission was also to raise the idea of using full-body scanners for people who try to board at the last minute.
Saturday's meeting sets the stage for what will probably be a lively discussion at EU level next month. The results of the conference will be debated by Europe's rail security group on Sept. 11, and forwarded for EU transport ministers to discuss when they meet October 7-8.