A lot is going on in France this summer. With the Euro 2016 soccer tournament and the Tour de France happening back-to-back, millions of visitors are expected to pour into the country.
In today's France, this means a desperate need for security.
In 2010, when France was celebrating its victory in the bid to host Euro 2016, it would have been hard to imagine the circumstances and security threats facing the country now. What would normally have been an unrestrained atmosphere of joy in France is instead clouded by the traumatic Paris and Charlie Hebdo attacks of last year that killed a total of more than 140 people. On French television these days, exciting pre-match debates take a step back to talks over a potential terror attack during Euro 2016.
The French government is under immense pressure to ensure maximum security. More than 90,000 soldiers, police and private security contractors will be stationed at the stadiums and in "fan zones" across France.
Time Magazine correspondent Vivienne Walt in Paris sees all the measures the French government is taking.
“The stakes are extremely high for the French government. They really have to pull this off well,” she says. “People in the intelligence and police services will tell you that the Euro 2016 is the number one target for terror groups in Europe this entire year.”
The Euro 2016 championship will go on for an entire month starting June 10 and matches will take place around 10 stadiums across the country. In addition, there will be 10 open-air “fan zones” for fans to watch the matches on enormous screens. Walt has visited the biggest of these “fan zones” — the one right at the foot of the Eiffel Tower with a capacity of 92,000 people — and has seen the layers of security awaiting spectators in the area.
“To get through one of these access points you’re going to have to put whatever you have on yourself through a magnetic scanner, just like you would at an airport,” Walt says. “Then you’ll be patted down by a security official, your bags will be physically searched and your identity will be checked.”
There are also 49 closed-circuit security cameras installed around the area.
Basically, the French government is leaving nothing to chance.
But Walt says attackers could select a target away from these heavily secured areas.
“While the stadiums and fan zones are pretty well locked down, some terror groups might take the opportunity to mount an attack," she says. "ISIS has pretty much admitted to planning to do so. If there is an attack anywhere in France at this time, the police will already have their hands full with securing the tournament and the Tour de France. It could be a disaster.”
There's deep anxiety among the French population after a year of terror and months of protests and strikes. However, instead of leaving town in search of safety, many are planning to remain in their cities in the hope that this next month will be a time to relax and enjoy the competitions and the summer weather.
According to Walt, French citizens are ready and really “in need of a good party.”
“If the government is able to pull off the next month without any violence," she says, "this really could be a great moment for the country, and a time for the government to finally turn the page after a year of terrorism and protests and try to get tourists back into the country, and in a sense move forward.”