France and the Euro 2016 security conundrum

France and the Euro 2016 security conundrum

As the Euro 2016 football championship nears, France continues to face an elevated terrorist threat and ongoing social unrest. Major security measures are in place to secure the sporting event; however, several risks continue to loom over the event.

Between June 10th and July 10th, France will host the 15th edition of the UEFA European football championship. 24 teams will compete in 51 matches organised in ten cities of the country. According to French government estimates, the tournament will attract 2.5 million participants in local stadiums. In addition, more than 8 million people will follow the event in fan-zones. In total, approximately 2 million foreigners will travel to France for the sporting event. The Euro 2016 will take place as the country is currently facing an elevated terrorist threat and heightened socio-political tensions.  

France: a top target for radical Islamists

Throughout 2015, France experienced a string of high-profile terrorist attacks as well as several lone-wolf incidents, which underscore that the country is a top-priority target in Europe for Islamic State-aligned militants. The November 2015 assaults highlighted the capacity of Islamist militants to prepare and conduct complex attacks. Since then, Syria and Iraq-based Sunni extremists continued to call for attacks against France. According to data released by the Soufran Group in December 2015, there are currently 1,700 French born foreign fighters in the Middle East. As such, the Islamic State and other radical groups benefit from deep-rooted Islamist networks in France and its neighbouring countries that can be used for financing, recruiting and offensive operations.

French authorities repeatedly stated that the Euro 2016 will present a highly symbolic potential target for Islamist radicals. The parliament decided to extend the state of emergency until July 26th in a bid to increase the security and judicial forces’ ability to respond to the Islamist menace. Since early 2016, approximately 30 trainings have been carried out nationwide to guarantee the safety of the event and major security means will be put in place throughout the duration of the tournament. Given the scale of security measures in place, intelligence officials and security forces are more likely to disrupt large terrorist plots; however, there remains an elevated risk that smaller plans or lone-wolf attacks may be carried out.

Not only terror

While much of the attention concerning the Euro 2016 security rightfully focuses on the terrorist threat, the competition will also be exposed to two other major risks: the one generated by the current wave of anti-government protests and the one resulting from potential hooliganism.

Since March, labour and student unions have been conducting major anti-government protests sparked by their opposition to the labour market reform (also known as the El Khomry bill). In May, these demonstrations spiralled into several episodes of violent unrest. Nationwide general strikes led to major air and railway service interruptions as well as periodic fuel shortages. There is a risk that these protests will carry over throughout the Euro 2016 and lead to substantial disruptions in the country’s main cities.

Several risk-prone supporter groups are also expected to travel to France for the Euro 2016. Radical supporters from the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Poland, Russia, and Turkey as well as from other countries may clash against rival groups or specifically target personnel due to their ethnic features. The risk of hooliganism is an ever present element in major football tournaments and French security forces have been training to address it.   

Securing the stadiums and the fan-zones

French officials have been preparing a major security plan to provide safety for all those participating to the Euro 2016 in stadiums and fan-zones. The overall cost of the measure is high, as security for fan-zones alone will amount to €24 million. In general, more than 42,000 police officers, 30,000 gendarmes and 10,000 soldiers will take part in the security plan.  

For both stadiums and fan-zones, the ministry of interior put in place a two-tier security protocol based on a two-perimeter system. Controls at the two security cordons will be conducted by a mix of French security officials and private security guards. Participants will go through identity and bag checks. While these controls are likely to diminish the terrorist threat within the stadiums, there are concerns that they will lead to larger crowds on the outskirts of sport venue, increasing risk generated by attacks planned for before the kick-off.

The bulk of security operations will focus on stadiums and fan-zones; however, there are also concerns that Islamist militants may try to hit popular commercial and touristic districts as well as bars or restaurants during games. As such, police and military units will patrol through the main French urban centres.

Cracks in the system

The French football cup final held in the Saint-Denis stadium on May 21st raised concerns over the efficiency of security controls. Supporters managed to enter the stadium by-passing three levels of security with makeshift smoke grenades and fireworks as well as other dangerous items. In addition, tensions between rival supporters led to localised unrest in the vicinity of the stadium, where sections of the security perimeter were briefly overly congested, leading to movement disruptions and the overcrowding of some spaces.

While French authorities conducted additional trainings to rectify these errors, it is likely that the increased number of participants during the Euro 2016 championship will put an additional strain on local security forces and may lead to localised failures in the system.

Categories: Europe, Security

About Author

Riccardo Dugulin

Riccardo Dugulin is an analyst at Drum Cussac, a global business risk consultancy. He specializes in supporting international organizations and large corporations operating in emerging markets by providing them with critical risk management intelligence. His regions of expertise are the Near East, the Gulf, North Africa and Continental Europe. He previously worked as project manager for a French medical assistance company. He gained field experience in the Middle East having worked for leading think tanks in Dubai and Beirut. Riccardo holds a Master in International Affairs from the Sciences Po – Paris and a Bachelor in Middle Eastern Studies from the same university. Follow him on Twitter @RiccardoDugulin.