France reassures soccer fans over terror and strike threats

French prime minister tells Euro 2016 travellers to ‘come by plane, by car, by train’

French prime minister Manuel Valls.  Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

French prime minister Manuel Valls.  Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

 

Prime minister Manuel Valls wants to reassure the 2.5 million foreigners – including 100,000 Irish citizens – who are expected to travel to France for the Euro 2016 football championships.

“This morning I read in El País newspaper that there will be no trains at all during the Euros,” Mr Valls, who was born in Barcelona, told a small group of foreign correspondents. 

“No.  Tell your readers:  ‘Come by plane.  Come by car.  Come by train’.”

Mr Valls said Air France pilots have made “a firm commitment” not to hold a threatened strike lasting more than six days during the championship. 

He will be “totally intransigent” with them if they break that promise.

The pilots had threatened to strike before the 1998 World Cup too, he noted.  “It’s the same refrain . . . though political and social tension is higher now.” Air traffic controllers were to have gone on strike from June 3rd-5th.  “For the air traffic controllers, we’re in the process of concluding an agreement,” he said. 

Within minutes, two syndicates representing 80 per cent of air traffic controllers announced they were lifting their strike advisory.

Only 4 per cent of French petrol stations still have fuel shortages Mr Valls said. 

A majority of refineries remain blocked, but the crisis has shown that the refineries aren’t needed, because France can bring fuel in from abroad.

That left the SNCF railway company.  “There is a strike.  It’s difficult,” Mr Valls admitted. 

“It’s not the first time.  There are strikes in other countries.  When there’s a train strike for weeks in Germany, nobody talks about it.  I think we can get out of this difficulty with the SNCF, which was foreseeable, I hope by Monday. ”

Regarding fears of jihadist attacks, Mr Valls noted that 90,000 people, including 73,000 police and gendarmes, 12,000 private security agents and 10,000 soldiers from the army’s Opération Sentinelle” will be on duty.

The US state department on Tuesday issued a “travel alert” for Europe warning that “the large number of tourists visiting Europe in the summer months will present greater targets for terrorists planning attacks in public locations, especially at large events”.

The warning specifically mentioned that “France will host the European Soccer Championship from June 10th-July 10th. 

Euro cup stadiums, fan zones, and unaffiliated entertainment venues broadcasting the tournaments in France and across Europe represent potential targets for terrorists”.

‘Fan zones’

The conservative opposition is campaigning to shut down “fan zones” in 10 host cities, where sports fans can watch the matches on giant screens.  Security for fan zones will be identical to that in stadiums, Mr Valls said.

He called the Tour de France bicycle race, which will overlap with the Euro 2016, “one giant fan zone.” 

If there were a “precise threat” against a specific fan zone, Mr Valls continued, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve could take action. 

But “today, the fan zones are being maintained.  In a period of threats, it’s very important that life continues.” 

He and President François Hollande and numerous European leaders, will attend matches.

Mr Valls confirmed a recent statement by Patrick Calvar, the head of French domestic intelligence, that France is the number one target of Islamic State. 

Islamic State, also known as Isis, just issued a communiqué calling for a bloody month of Ramadan, which starts on June 7th. 

Mr Valls said it wasn’t clear if they referred to the war in Syria and Iraq or their terror campaign in Europe. 

“We’ve been living with this threat since the beginning of 2015.  We’re not the only ones;  this reality exists.  The strength of a democracy is to face such threats, to continue living and do everything to provide security.”

Widespread reports

His offer earlier this week to help fund generous benefits for entertainment workers who were threatening to sabotage summer festivals “has nothing to do with the labour law,” he claimed. 

Nor did the billion euro pay rise given to French teachers this week.

Hotel reservations in Paris this summer have plummeted 50 per cent compared to last year. 

Foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo this week launched a campaign to encourage tourists to visit. 

Mr Valls’s meeting with foreign journalists, too, was intended to improve the country’s image. 

Other Europeans “read your newspapers.  They say,  ‘It’s chaos.  We can’t go to France.  We can’t drive around or buy petrol’,” Mr Valls playfully scolded leading foreign correspondents. 

“When I read what you write, sometimes I have the impression we don’t live in the same country.”