Only 20 years ago, the only way to reach the United Kingdom was by air or sea; today, the Channel Tunnel has made London almost as close as Brussels. The Tunnel was a genuine technological challenge as it includes the longest undersea portion in the world (38km under the sea, with a total length of 50.5km). For this feat to be possible, a structure with a unique management model had to be created, in which the French Ministry played a key role.
A genuine scaled-down international organization
The construction and operation of the Tunnel were carried out within the framework of a private contract awarded by the French and British governments to Eurotunnel. The French-British treaty which instigated the contract also created a Channel Tunnel Intergovernmental Commission (IGC), a binational body responsible for all issues regarding the Channel Tunnel. The IGC provides the legal and economic supervision of the contract and can also act as an appeals body for tunnel-related disputes.
Operating like a genuine scaled-down international organization, the IGC holds fortnightly meetings in which all tunnel-related decisions are taken on behalf of the French and British governments. It is chaired alternately by the Heads of the French and British delegations. Since 1 April 2015, it has been chaired by Pascale Andréani, who in February last was appointed as Head of the French Delegation.
Conciliating often differing approaches
The successive choice of two senior civil servants from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development (MAEDI) to take on this position demonstrates the essential role it plays in the work of the Commission. Diplomatic skills and culture are highly desirable assets for best carrying out negotiations with the British party and for conciliating often differing administrative approaches.
As it works on a wide variety of issues, the IGC is backed by three specialized committees, in the fields of economic regulation, security (infrastructure, evacuation) and safety. The IGC also receives support from experts for certain technical aspects of its work, in particular legal experts and police and customs representatives.
Several new challenges have arisen since 1987 when construction of the tunnel began. The work of the IGC is currently focussing on issues relating to integrating the tunnel into an optimum and efficient trans-European transport network which meets increased demands for mobility. Firstly, the legal framework for operating the tunnel, which is based on French-British agreements, must be adapted to European legislation. Next, traffic volumes in the tunnel are growing strongly, and although currently far from full capacity, certain improvements are now necessary. Finally, as the tunnel will soon come under new operators enabling it to link London with Brussels, Frankfurt and Milan within a few years, its economic model and some technical specifications must be reviewed.
In addition to the IGC Chairmanship, three diplomats are regularly involved in its work. Their role is first and foremost to place the issues of the Channel Tunnel within the broader context of the French-British relationship, e.g. the presence of a refugee camp and illegal migrants in Calais is a local, binational and European issue all at once. They must also provide interministerial coordination with a view to reviewing agreements on the tunnel and ensure smooth relations with the British delegation. Negotiating skills are crucial in these interministerial and binational components of the IGC’s work. Thus in the reduced format of the IGC, all aspect of the profession of diplomat can be seen: international, interministerial, legal and economic.