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Franco-Swiss tension stirs up trouble at Geneva airport

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Franco-Swiss tension stirs up trouble at Geneva airport
File photo: Richard Juilliart
11:18 CEST+02:00
Some 200 French workers recently hired by Geneva airport can't start work because France is refusing to give Switzerland information vital for security checks, according to reports.

According to the Tribune de Genève, for the past two months the French authorities have refused to hand over police records on French residents and former residents to Geneva police so they can carry out security checks on employees at Cointrin airport, which straddles the border between the two countries.

While they will tell the Swiss if a person is known to French police, they won't hand over detailed information regarding a person's criminal record.

As a result, nearly 200 new employees recruited for jobs at the airport cannot be given the necessary security clearance and are still waiting to start work, causing concern among airport officials who fear they may be left understaffed at the height of the tourist season.

Exactly why the French authorities have taken such action is unclear, said the Tribune, though it could relate to an incident in December when Geneva airport withdrew the security clearance of 35 employees after information received from France.

Speaking to the paper, the lawyer for some of the 35, Pierre Bayenet, said France's current refusal to hand over further information was “surprising” but that he understood it.

“I understand the reaction of the French authorities in the sense that Geneva didn't make best use of the information given by France [in December]. If things had been done correctly, if my clients had been able to explain themselves, we would not be in this situation now.”

The paper also speculated that France may not have appreciated a recent request by Geneva for a large amount of information on security-cleared people including high level personalities, which was deemed “inappropriate” by some.

The French interior ministry is currently examining the legality of the situation in light of a 2007 agreement on information exchange between the two countries, while the Swiss justice minister, Simonetta Sommaruga, is liaising with her French counterpart in an attempt to unblock the flow of information.  

“There have been exchanges between Simonetta Sommaruga and Bernard Cazeneuve, the French minister of the interior, regarding the collaboration between the Swiss and French authorities,” a spokesman for the Swiss federal department of justice and police told the Tribune.

The situation comes at a time when Geneva airport has increased its security following major terrorist attacks at other airports including Brussels and Istanbul in the past few months.

An incident earlier this week showed just how concerned the airport is by security in the current climate when police imposed strict security checks on all people and vehicles entering the airport after a bomb threat.

The tip-off regarding a female bomber at the airport later turned out to be fake. 

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