‘Abuse of power’: Eurostar passengers left furious by French customs protest

Eurostar passengers were forced to join long queues once again on Tuesday as French customs officers continued their work-to-rule industrial action that some tearful passengers described as an "abuse of power". This is how those stuck waiting -- possibly for hours -- for their trains reacted.

'Abuse of power': Eurostar passengers left furious by French customs protest
File photo: AFP

Eurostar passengers faced yet another day of travel misery on Tuesday as French customs officers continued their protest, which they say is aimed at showing the regular kind of chaos at customs checks that will happen after Brexit – as well as improving their pay and conditions.

The queues to check in for the Eurostar at Paris Gare du Nord were building up quickly on Tuesday morning just as in previous days, with little sign of movement at the other end. 

One passenger, who had spent hours queuing for her train to London complained of an “abuse of power” on the part of the French customs officers. 

“To be subjected to strong intimidation and harassment by customs officers after waiting three and a half hours for the @Eurostar, I do not accept this! They have shown a huge abuse of power that has to stop. Then we are amazed at the contempt against the police?!” tweeted Camille Hulot (see tweet below). 



Hulot went on to say: “It's shameful! I came out of the customs queue in tears!! I cannot agree with intimidation like this, to be surrounded by three men, to be told how things should be done by people who did the opposite! Unacceptable.”

Others said they had not been given any information about the situation by Eurostar and how no idea how bad it would be until they arrived and saw the queues. 

It's scandalous,” Jean-Philippe Chavy, who was travelling to London for work, told The Local at Gare du Nord on Tuesday. “I'm supposed to be on the 10h06 train and I've been waiting here for an hour without moving.

“I've been given no information at all by Eurostar and I can't even leave to get some food, go to the toilet or have a drink.”

Chavy, who said he had already missed his first meeting, said that Eurostar had made no effort to contact him to make him aware of the situation. 

The announcements from Eurostar on Tuesday morning said that passengers faced delays of between 45 minutes and three hours. 

And Chavy wasn't the only person waiting who said that there had not been much information forthcoming. 

Anne Rush, who had been in the French capital for the Paris half marathon, said that she was “frustrated” and had not received an email or any contact from Eurostar telling her about what was going on. 

“We have a long day ahead of us because we're heading to the north east of England and we have fixed tickets on the other side, so I'm just hoping we make our train otherwise it will be very expensive.

“I had seen some news about the protest but didn't know it was this bad.”

Hugh Calder and Margaret Payne who were in Paris on holiday said that they had “not been told what would happen if they didn't make it through the queue on time for their train.”

Calder said he thought the government was “living in cloud cuckoo land when it came to Brexit.”

A French couple, who did not want to give their names, said that they were originally booked onto the 8h37 which had been cancelled last week. But because they had booked through French train website Oui, they were told by both Oui and Eurostar that they could not change their ticket over the phone, forcing them to travel into Paris to change their ticket in person. 

However despite the frustration and misery of those waiting, not everybody was annoyed with either Eurostar or the striking French customs officials. 

“Eurostar could not have predicted that this would happen and if the industrial action is anything to go by, the French government does need to add more customs officials,” said Alain Bertin, who had been waiting for an hour when we spoke to him. 

“The problem is that nobody knows what is going on even at this stage with Brexit,” he added. 

However others pointed out that this was not the only hurdle they had come up against on their trip to Paris. 

Rebecca Zytynski from the US, who was on holiday with her family, said that the “yellow vest” protest on Saturday meant that she couldn't make it to the ballet in time due to the fact that the Champs-Elysees was closed. 

What happens now?

The unions met Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin on Tuesday morning which could see the situation resolved later in the day. 
“We will present a common message to show the urgency of our requests,” said Thomazo.
Their list of demands is clear: additional staff and equipment, new infrastructure and better financial benefits. While waiting for the government's response, they intend to continue their protest which they is aimed at showing the kind of chaos at customs checks that will happen after Brexit.
The French government has announced the recruitment of an extra 700 customs officials, a number seen as insufficient by some unions.
“The French government has never believed in a Brexit, they are in total denial,” said Thomazo.
“Decisions should have been made a year ago, not three weeks before 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 for Brexit.”

Member comments

  1. The French custom officials appear to be using Brexit as an excuse to further their own ends at the expense of travelers who have no recourse to challenge their action. Otherwise known as bullying and abuse of power. Prior to the EU there was no problem moving from France to the UK, drivers and pedestrians were just waved through, so what’s changed? Nothing, just a group seeing an opportunity to father their nests.
    If as they say they are working to rule, they need to be reminded then to get on and do the jobs they are paid to do.

  2. This is so reminiscent of the Britain of the 1970s when unions were constantly calling on strikes to hold the public to ransom. I object strongly to being used as a tool in other people’s disputes and the brazen lies to cover a power grab is frankly sickening – but that’s the French disease!

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Eurostar’s souvenir bomb warning after Paris station evacuated

Passengers on Eurostar have been warned about bringing shells that have been turned into souvenirs onto the trains after Paris' Gare du Nord station had to be evacuated.

Eurostar's souvenir bomb warning after Paris station evacuated
The Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord was evacuated
The Paris transport hub had to be evacuated early on Monday morning after a World War II shell was found in a passenger's bag.


The evacuation, which happened at about 5.45am on Monday, was completed by 10am, but has led to longer than usual queues for Eurostar services.

It is the latest in a series of security alerts caused by passengers trying to take souvenir war artillery on to trains.

Eurostar issued a special warning ahead of the First World War commemorations in November 2018, but with just a month to go until memorial events for the D Day landings, there are fears that the problems could recur.
“As you're travelling during the commemoration period, please remember that you can't bring any real or replica bombs, shells (complete or partial) or weapons on board – even if you bought them from a gift shop,” Eurostar told passengers last year.
“If you bring them with you, they'll be confiscated at security and may result in the need to evacuate the station.”
Old World War I shells turned into flower pots have been popular souvenirs in Belgium and France ever since the end of the conflict, but passengers attempting to take them on board trains for Britain have sparked bomb scares in recent years.
Some of the alerts, which happen every few months, have also been caused by war memorabilia collectors bringing back disarmed ordnance unearthed by farmers at battle sites in northeast France.
Eurostar said even disarmed shells can set off X-ray alarms.