The ministers of foreign affairs of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Friday after the Baltic States agreed to lift travel restrictions and ensure free movement of the residents of the Baltic States by land, sea or air.
The signing took place in Riga, Latvia on Friday morning after restrictions were lifted for the six million residents of the Baltic states at midnight.
Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius said: "All the Baltic countries have taken active steps to combat the virus. Progress in slowing the spread of the disease has allowed all three countries to phase out restrictions and, at the same time, to take important decisions to allow people to travel again without restrictions.
He added: "This is very important for the economies, tourism and people-to-people contacts."
Starting Friday, Baltic citizens and residents can move freely between the three countries, provided that they have not traveled outside the region for the last 14 days. They will not be required to self-isolate, but identity document checks remain in place.
Baltic citizens returning from countries outside the region will still be required to self-isolate for two weeks. They will be able to do so in their home countries.
Since Monday, Lithuanian and Polish citizens have been able to travel freely between the two neighboring countries for business, studies or work. Estonia is hopeful that Finland will also be able to join the "Baltic Bubble" in the future, foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu said on Thursday.
The three foreign ministers issued a joint statement emphasizing that "unity and cooperation remains essential".
"Cooperation and exchange of information with our regional, like-minded friends in the Nordic-Baltic format has been close and effective from the very start of this crisis," the ministers said.
"The EU level cooperation, very positively illustrated by joint action in organizing EU citizens' repatriation flights from all over the world to home countries, needs to be continued in a united and efficient way in different strands of work [...]."
Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius posted a picture of the signing on his Twitter page.
It is official: travel restrictions between ???????????????????????? have been lifted, Baltic "Travel Bubble" formed. The Baltic States now are among the first ones within the #EU ???????? to take this regional step ???? https://t.co/QdK02hFfN6 https://t.co/oWIU1V0nfh pic.twitter.com/qJU7cgxBKx— Lithuania MFA (@LithuaniaMFA) May 15, 2020
The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted the three countries have always had close relations.
The #Baltic countries have always had close relations and the MoU signed today is an example of that.— Estonian MFA ???????? (@MFAestonia) May 15, 2020
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See signed Memorandum of Understanding here: https://t.co/9ruJ8Twwrs pic.twitter.com/JffcuNfmxi
Read the joint statement in full here.
Read the memorandum of understanding here.
'Travel bubble' rules
You can cross the border if:
- You have not travelled outside the Baltic States for the last 14 days.
- If you are not in self-isolation due to having tested positive for COVID-19 or having been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
- Have no symptoms of a respiratory infection.
Baltic prime ministers: First coronavirus wave is under control
The Baltic prime ministers say their countries have successfully taken the first coronavirus wave under control, which allowed them to lift the travel restrictions for Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian residents to travel to other Baltic states as of Friday.
Prime Minister Juri Ratas said that since the spread of the coronavirus has been contained, "we can take another step towards our normal life".
Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said in a video recording released on Friday: "We can be glad that we, the three Baltic states, have successfully taken the first COVID-19 virus wave under control and are the first in the European Union to open our borders to each others' citizens. But we remain cautious and responsible and are protecting the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian space. Let's be safe together."
Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said: "It is a very important day as we, the three Baltic states, have returned to the common space by re-introducing free movement of people within the three Baltic states."
He added: "It has happened thanks to great cooperation of our people and government."
The three prime ministers released a joint video on Facebook, each speaking in their own language.
Today is a an important milestone in our fight against #COVID19 pandemic as we re-joined into a common space, allowing the free movement of people between the three Baltic States. Once more a close cooperation between Baltic States has made us an excellent example in Europe. pic.twitter.com/eI2hFuNWdV— Krišjānis Kariņš (@krisjaniskarins) May 15, 2020
Editor: Helen Wright