Unity and cooperation across the European Union will help to overcome the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said Tuesday evening, at a high-level meeting of the union's leadership. Further controls on the European Union's external border are also to be imposed.
The prime minister was taking part in a video conference with leaders of all 27 EU Member States as well as representatives of its institutions and stressed that unity and cooperation will help the Member States to overcome the coronavirus and its effects.
"We must act jointly with all the Member States to protect our citizens, employers and entrepreneurs, and also to protect the stability of the Euro area," Ratas said, according to a government press release.
Ratas also gave an overview of Estonia's actions aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus, as well as noting the importance of allowing Europe's internal market to continue to function as far as was possible, and ensure the free movement of vital services and products in particular was not hampered.
"One of the most important foundations of the European internal market – the free movement of goods – must be maintained at this very difficult time as well," Ratas said at the meeting.
"We must do everything we can to ensure that there will be no obstacles at borders. For us the situation is critical, for example, at the Polish border. It is also essential at the moment that vehicles carrying medicines, medical devices and food and other basic necessities can travel freely across borders," the prime minister went on.
At the same time, while this had to be balanced with border controls aimed at halting the coronavirus spread, the prime minister said that those wishing to return home quickly via other member states should not be obstructed.
"We are working with the Estonian foreign service so that our people can get home quickly," he said.
Over 70 Estonian citizens were trapped on the German-Polish border at the beginning of the week after they had been promised escorted transit across Poland – which closed its borders Sunday – towards the Baltic States. This offer failed to materialize in reality, with several from among those stranded breaking fences in order to get back across German territory towards the Baltic sea port of Travemünde.
A ship run by Tallink was dispatched Tuesday night to bring back many of those stranded.
30-day restriction on travel to EU and non-EU Schengen Area countries imposed
Under the leadership of President of the European Council Charles Michel, EU Heads of State and Government also discussed protection of the external EU borders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, cooperation at internal borders, joint procurement of medical equipment, research and development to find vaccines and mitigation of the economic effects caused by the virus crisis.
The Heads of the Member States approved guidelines on border measures submitted by the European Commission to the Member States, which focus on managing borders in a way that reduces the risk to human health, but ensures access to goods and essential services, according to the government press release.
The measures initially establish a 30-day restriction on discretionary travel to the EU and non-EU Schengen area countries. The introduction and implementation of restrictions on the travel of third-country nationals at the EU's external borders must be ensured by the Member States, it is reported.
Additional ways to mitigate the impact of the virus spread on the European economy were also discussed.
EU funds also set aside
The European Commission has already launched a number of measures including flexibility in the use of EU funds.
Thirty-seven euros earmarked from structural funds proposed by the European Commission to mitigate the impact of the crisis will include just under €300 million for use in Estonia.
The funds are aimed at supporting health care and reducing the impact of the crisis on small and medium-sized enterprises and on the labor market, including avoiding large redundancies and loss of income.
The meeting was attended by the heads of government and/or heads of state of all 27 Member States of the European Union, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde, and President of the Eurogroup Mario Centeno.
More similar video-conference meetings involving EU leaders are schedule for the coming weeks.
Editor: Andrew Whyte