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Q&A: Eurostar and airports in France hit by ongoing protest by French customs officers

Eurostar passengers in Paris continued to be hit by major disruption on Monday due to industrial action being carried out by French customs officers while charter flights to ski resorts have also been subject to disruption. Here's what you need to know about the ongoing protests.

Q&A: Eurostar and airports in France hit by ongoing protest by French customs officers
Scenes at Gare du Nord on Sunday

The long delays at Paris Gare du Nord and on the motorways around Calais over the past week have caused no shortage of frustration among passengers and on Saturday the industrial action started affecting people taking flights to French ski resorts. 

Here's what you need to know about the situation that continued to blight travel plans on Monday.

Why exactly are French customs officials striking?

The reason behind the industrial action, which began on March 4th, is customs officials are trying to press demands for higher pay and demonstrate what will happen if greater controls are put in place once Britain leaves the European Union, planned for later this month.

Instead of going on strike — meaning they would not work at all — the customs officers have been carrying out work-to-rule industrial action which means that they only do what is required by the rules of their contract. 

This means that they precisely follow all safety or other regulations, which has means lots of checks and questions which has slowed down the flow of passengers through terminals at Eurostar, EUrotunnel and the ports in Calais and now at airports in the Alps.

Photo: AFP

Vincent Thomazo from UNSA union told The Local last week that customs' agents wanted to get the message across to the French government that they were simply not ready for Brexit.
 
“Our aim is to attract attention to our worsening conditions of work which will only get worse once Brexit happens,” Thomazo said.
 
“We are simply not ready. The administration has simply waited too long to get things in place,” he said.
 
The French government has announced the recruitment of an extra 700 customs officials, a number seen as insufficient by some unions.
 
Who is being affected?
 
The first to be affected were truck drivers travelling through Calais. Long checks caused tailbacks of trucks along the A16 motorway.

At the moment Eurostar passengers and people going on skiing holidays, with flights to Chambéry, Grenoble in the French Alps, and Lyon affected by the industrial action. 

Eurostar passengers have taken to social media to voice their anger at the situation, with some kept in queues for over an hour to check-in while trains have been experiencing heavy delays, in some cases for up to several hours. 

On Monday morning the manager of Eurostar at Gare du Nord tweeted that the service was experiencing delays of up to one hour however the company said that it was expecting delays of up to 120 minutes throughout the day. 

The unions have been carrying out action this weekend at airports in Lyon, Chambery and Grenoble.

One person on Twitter put up a post with a photo of the chaos at Grenoble airport (see below): “Grenoble airport – today French customs are practicing passport control for a no deal Brexit. This is the future Brexiteers!”

How long has it been going on?

The industrial action began on March 4th.

The action has been going for a week at the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord and began affecting flights to the French Alps this weekend. 

Passengers using the EuroTunnel have also been affected off and on over the past week. On Sunday people took to Twitter to voice their frustration at the situation however on Monday passenger services were operating as normal. 

(Trucks queued up outside port of Calais. AFP)

How long is it expected to continue?

The simple — and for some, irritating answer — is that nobody really knows. 

Eurostar services will be hit at Paris Gare du Nord until March 12th at least however the company tweeted to one passenger on Monday morning “we are not aware of when the French douane (customs) action will cease.” 

French Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin is set to meet the customs unions on Tuesday morning.

Nevertheless, Vincent Thomazo from the UNSA union told The Local on Monday: “This could go on for a very long time.

“I do not think the government is ready to make the concessions we are looking for and border controls are not currently its main priority.”

What should you do if you have Eurostar tickets for the next few days?

Eurostar is advising people with tickets to only travel “if necessary” and is offering ticket exchanges for those affected free of charge. 

However as seen above there is no detailed information on when the strike is expected to end. 

Member comments

  1. The delay for passengers at Gare du Nord has been closer to 5 hours. I stood in a line for 5 hours on March 13.

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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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