Belgium prepares to present passenger data plans to rest of EU

Belgium's plan to apply airline-style passenger registration to high-speed train services, buses and boats will be shared with EU interior ministers at the end of the month. [Shutterstock]

In response to a number of terror attacks, Belgium wants greater control over who travels on its trains, buses and boats and will present its plans at the next meeting of EU interior ministers at the end of January. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

At the next meeting of the EU’s justice and interior ministers on 26 and 27 January, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Jan Jambon will reveal his proposal.

Jambon, of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), intends to inform his EU counterparts about what the Belgian parliament decided shortly before the Christmas break on registering train, bus and boat passengers.

The proposal is a direct response to the March 2016 Brussels attacks and the new measures are expected to be in place by May 2018 at the latest.

Belgium’s decision goes far beyond what the European Parliament pushed through in April on retaining Passenger Name Records (PNR). That decision, which is meant to help in the fight against terror, means that airlines must hand over passenger data to national authorities when operating EU flights to and from third party countries.

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Jambon’s plan takes this initiative and applies it to other means of transport. It will mean that anyone wanting to travel by rail, sea or by bus to another EU country will have to register their information.

The days of buying a last minute ticket will effectively end and it will be impossible to travel, for example, on the Brussels-Cologne high-speed Thalys service without planning ahead.

Belgium renewed its call to retain passenger data after the Berlin Christmas market attack on 19 December, in which a stolen lorry was driven into a crowd of people gathered in Breitscheidplatz.

Evidence now indicates that the perpetrator, Anis Amri, fled Germany via the Netherlands and France by bus and train, before being shot dead by Italian police outside a Milan train station.

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The Belgian government believes that storing the data of train, bus and ship passengers travelling to other EU countries would do much to improve the situation. Whether it will be approved though, remains unclear.

According to EU diplomats, the decision on air traffic passenger data was already a “big step” and that measure only applies to travellers going to or from third party destinations.

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Belgium’s neighbour, France, is not taken with its northern cousin’s proposal and the plan has been criticised for being disproportionate. However, since the November 2015 attacks, passenger checks have been carried out at Paris and Lille train stations.

The idea was also discussed after an August 2015 incident in which a man opened fire and stabbed a number of passengers on a Thalys service between Amsterdam and Paris. Ayoub al Khazzani, the Moroccan who carried out the attack, had lived in Belgium since 2015.


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