EU authorities to discuss ‘Moscow model’ to protect airports

Some of the perpetrators of the recent attacks in Brussels were returned fighters from Syria with EU passport. [Jorge Valero]

National experts will consider lessons learnt from terrorist attacks in Moscow and in Madrid in a meeting on 11 April to improve security at the airports, and mass public transportation systems, in the aftermath of the Brussels attacks, EU officials told

Member states and the EU institutions will look at the lessons learnt from past terrorist attack at Domodedovo International Airport, Moscow’s busiest airport, in 2011 and the commuter trains bombing in Madrid, in 2004.

Following the attack in the baggage-claim area of the Moscow airport, Russian authorities strengthened controls to access the terminal buildings.

Meanwhile, Spain also increased the security measures with CCTV cameras and guards in stations and trains after the attack, when 191 people were killed.

A European Commission spokesperson explained that these two cases offer two precedents that could be the basis for the discussion in the next few days.

The meeting of the land transport security experts group (landsec) is scheduled for 11 April. But given the magnitude of the attacks in Brussels on 22 March, the European Commission spokesperson did not rule out that the meeting could be brought forward, as was the case last summer following the aborted attempt of a mass shooting in a Thalys train.

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Although an important part of the competences in this field remain in the member states’ hands, Commission officials said  the institution has “obviously” a role to play, in particular in airport security.

Check-in areas not included

EU rules (regulation 300/2008) set common basic standards to be applied at all EU airports, but also quality control obligations for member states to ensure that all measures are correctly implemented.

The common standards include the access control and surveillance in the airports.

But a staff working document drafted by the executive in 2012 pointed out that EU legislation on aviation security “is defined in such a way that the focus is on prevention acts of unlawful interference to aircraft”.

Accordingly, airport car parks, airport railway stations and even the check-in areas of airports are not covered by existing EU law.

Back then, European Commission experts recommended the land transport security experts group to look at the ways of developing better integrated security in this field.

In particular, the document urged to explore whether action at EU level is needed to better protect  multimodal transport interchanges.

Mass public transportation systems, such as metro, are mainly an issue of national competences.

But the staff working document underlined that it would be “desirable” a EU approach to better protect passengers in interchanges, since they are “potentially attractive” targets for terrorists.

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“Whilst transport security policy should be developed at national or local level under the principle of subsidiarity, a large proportion of transport operations occur among Member States and it is clear that there is an added value to certain actions being taken at the EU level.”

Reactive response

Terrorist attacks have hit public transport in Europe over the last 15 years on numerous occasions. These attacks have shaped the policy decisions taken to bolster transport security, EU officials admitted in 2012.

But “given the relative infrequency of such incidents, there has not been a political urgency to develop pro-active mandatory security requirements”, the document stated.

Moreover, decisions initially taken are delayed or not implemented due to the additional costs or national opposition among operators or authorities.

In this regard, the Commission wants a “proportionate” response in order to avoid excessive measures on the passengers or additional costs for operators that are not willing to take.

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“You can narrow the loopholes but we have to admit that a zero risk scenario is not possible”, the European Commission official explained.

Back in 2012, officials already noted that one of the reasons why transport security “is not as well advanced in the EU as a whole as it could be” is because security is not a “positive selling feature that attracts customers or passengers”.

“Security can be perceived by some transport operators to be a negative cost, or even something that is not their responsibility to provide, taking into account that the return and effectiveness of investments in security is difficult to measure.”

As part of the recommendations, Commission experts named common security requirements for transport operators to facilitate cost savings, and common performance requirements for security provides in terms of equipment and personnel.


  • 11 April: Land transport security experts group (landsec) meeting

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