European Commission launches infringement proceedings against Estonia

Flag of the European Union and related institutions next to the Estonian flag.
Flag of the European Union and related institutions next to the Estonian flag. Source: ERR

The European Commission on Friday launched two infringement proceedings against Estonia, one concerning the Schengen Borders Code and the other against hate speech legislation.

The Commission decided on Friday to send letters of formal notice to Estonia and Romania as their national laws do not fully and accurately transpose the EU rules on combating certain forms of expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.

Estonia has failed to transpose criminalization of the specific forms of hate speech, namely the public condoning, denying or gross trivialization of international crimes and the Holocaust when such conduct aims at inciting violence or hatred.

Additionally, Estonia has not correctly criminalized hate speech, by omitting the criminalization of public incitement to violence or hatred when directed at groups and has not provided for adequate penalties.

Finally, the Estonian criminal code does not ensure that the racist and xenophobic motivation of crimes are taken into account as aggravating circumstances so that such crimes are effectively and adequately prosecuted.

Romania has not correctly defined hate speech, as it fails to criminalize hate speech inciting violence. Furthermore, Romania only criminalizes hate speech inciting hatred, where this conduct is directed against a group of persons defined by reference to race, color, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin, but not when addressed towards an individual member of such groups.

Estonia and Romania have two months to reply to the points raised by the Commission. Otherwise, the Commission may decide to send a reasoned opinion. The framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law aims to ensure that serious manifestations of racism and xenophobia are punishable by effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties throughout the EU.

The Commission is continuing to assess the transposition of this framework decision also in other member states and, if necessary, will not hesitate to start other infringement proceedings.

Regarding the Schengen Borders Code, Estonia is requested to remove additional conditions for crossing the external land borders to exit the EU.

The Commission decided on Friday to send an additional letter of formal notice to Estonia for introducing additional obligations on travelers crossing the external EU land border, which are in breach of the Schengen Borders Code.

Currently, Estonia requires travelers who want to exit the EU to reserve a place in a border-crossing queue and to pay a fee for the reservation and for the use of the waiting area.

The Schengen Borders Code sets out an exhaustive set of conditions for crossings and checks that need to take place when travelers are exiting the EU borders.

The code does not allow member states to introduce any additional obligations, such as those at the border crossings in Estonia.

The Commission sent a letter of formal notice to Estonia in May 2016, followed up by a reasoned opinion in January 2019. The reply received was not satisfactory and while the on-site visit by the Commission observed some changes in the practice at the border, the legal situation had not changed. The Commission is now following up with an additional letter of formal notice.

Estonia has two months to notify the Commission of all measures taken to ensure the correct implementation of the relevant Schengen Borders Code provisions. Otherwise, the Commission may consider pursuing the infringement further

Helme: Schengen Borders Code has not been violated

"This is a topic that has lasted for several years, where the opinions of Estonia and the European Commission have diverged. Estonia has been of the opinion that organizing the queue for vehicles entering and crossing the border at road border crossing points and maintaining the waiting area and charging for these services are traffic management measures in the field of transport. They are not related to border controls and patrols and surveillance. Therefore, the procedures and measures established by Estonia do not fall within the scope of the Schengen Borders Code and cannot be in conflict with these rules," Interior Minister Mart Helme (EKRE) said.

As of August 2011, when crossing the land border crossing points of the external border, a procedure has been in force in Estonia that a fee must be paid for booking a place in the queue and using the waiting area.

The Ministry of the Interior will examine the letter sent by the European Commission in order to form a position on it in the coming months.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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