Vaccination campaigns against the epidemic of the century, new anti-terrorist procedures in airports in the wake of the botched attack on Christmas Day… The New Year has begun with a new wave of exasperating precautionary measures. Continually faced with warnings of an ongoing emergency and the threat of impending doom, the citizens of Europe have finally taken refuge in the immunity of indifference.

In a misguided effort to eliminate any possible risk, public authorities are ramping up security and public health provisions in an increasingly invasive application of the precautionary principle. However, the current influenza A (H1N1) has resulted in fewer deaths than the usual seasonal flu, and it has been several years since an attack on aircraft inflicted any real harm. Passengers' presence of mind – which is not actively encouraged by security gates and body searches – and competent intelligence gathering are apparently sufficient to thwart the current generation off would-be martyrs. At the same time, the recent incident involving a Slovak electrician, who was arrested in Dublin for unwittingly transporting explosives, clearly shows the serious danger that may be posed by a simple lack of common sense.

Meeting on 7 January to discuss the reinforcement of security for air travellers, and in particular the use of body scanners — while trains and other forms of public transport are left in the hands of fate — Europe's 27 member states are divided into two camps: the proponents of "maximum security" — Italy, UK, and the Netherlands — and countries like France, Germany and Belgium, who remain unconvinced, or take the view that current measures are sufficient. In the light of their conclusions, the European Commission may opt in favour of further restrictions, but it will likely be several months before these are implemented. However, regardless of the outcome of the meeting, the trying times for passengers will almost certainly continue.

Gian Paolo Accardo