Reinsalu: Estonia is cautious about opening its borders

Passengers being checked by thermal cameras at the Port of Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Additional trust and precautions are important when reopening the country's borders so the coronavirus does not start spreading between countries, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) told ERR. His views were echoed by the Minister of the Interior Mart Helme (EKRE).

Video meetings between the Baltic foreign ministers and another between Estonian-Finnish working group will take place on Wednesday to discuss the possible lifting of movement restrictions.

Reinsalu said the issues of resuming commuting between Estonia and Finland is essentially at the level of decision-making in the Finnish state. Estonia has submitted and is still submitting additional data on the spread of the virus in the country, according to Reinsalu, other countries are doing the same in order to be able to develop national exit strategies.

"It is in our interest that there are as many confidence measures as possible for international movement in all three Baltic countries," said Reinsalu.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The foreign minister said these are phasing out of restrictions and must take place in a coordinated manner between countries.

"Certainly some countries are taking faster steps, some countries are taking more cautious steps. Estonia's position is that we are careful when cooperating with other countries," said Reinsalu.

The Finnish government will start discussing the possibilities of opening the Finnish-Estonian border next Sunday. In an interview with ERR, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said that the opening will probably take place gradually, but if a decision is made, the relaxation of measures will take effect in a few days.

On Tuesday, Reinsalu met by video with his Finnish colleague Pekka Haavisto. They discussed measures taken in response to the COVID-19 crisis and possible ways to open borders in the future.

Reinsalu said that both Finland, as well as Estonia, had taken efficient measures to slow the spread of the virus.

"Borders can be opened only with consideration to safety measures – our common wish is to stop the spread of the virus," Reinsalu said.

"Estonia is proposing to Finland to first restore shuttle migration for cross-border workers while ensuring joint safety measures to protect people's health. We agreed that we would begin drawing up criteria for the grounds and volume of the restored movement of people between Estonia and Finland." 

Helme: We can start talking about freer cross-border movement if the health outlook on both sides of the border is good 

On Tuesday, Minister of the Interior Mart Helme (EKRE) said during a video meeting of EU ministers that the most important topic for Estonia was the gradual easing of border control measures. 

"It is important for Estonia that border control measures will be relaxed first and foremost with Latvia, Lithuania and Finland," said Helme at the video meeting. "We are also cooperating with all three countries in this direction. A separate working group with Finland has been operating for several weeks. Yesterday, we agreed in the government that we would also start talks to form a joint working group between all four countries."

Minister of the Interior Mart Helme at the EU ministers' video meeting on April 28. Source: Ministy of the Interior.

The Minister of the Interior said Estonia's vision of ending border control coincides with the vision of the European Commission, which would allow relief only when the epidemiological situation in border areas has become sufficiently uniform and keeping distance between people has become normal.

"From the Estonian experience, I can say that ensuring the daily cross-border movement of employees has not been easy. Throughout the crisis, Estonia and Latvia have kept the border for the movement of workers between home and work open, while the commuting between Estonia and Finland has completely stopped," said Helme. 

Helme said the EU member states should reach an agreement on common so-called trust measures for cross-border movement, which all countries could follow when reopening their borders.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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