Reform MEP: Finland border restrictions counter to EU principles

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Urmas Paet MEP (Reform). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Reform Party MEP Urmas Paet and former foreign minister has joined the Estonian government's criticism of its Finnish counterpart's decision to restrict entry to the country from next Wednesday, amid fears of more potent strains of the coronavirus.

Paet not only called the move regrettable, but said it went against EU and Schengen Area first principles.

"Undermining [the Schengen area] entails a long-term impact," Paet wrote on his social media account Saturday, BNS reports.

"This violation of the principle of free movement creates great difficulties to tens of thousands of people in Finland, Estonia and elsewhere," he added.

Finland returns to spring 2020-style border controls

Finland's government made the decision Friday, although outgoing prime minister Jüri Ratas (Center) had appealed to his opposite number in Helsinki, Sanna Marin, to reconsider the measures, during an online European Council meeting Thursday evening.

The restrictions largely reproduce those Finland imposed during the first coronavirus spring wave – which that time also caught out thousands of Estonian citizens who work and/or live in Finland and who in many cases had to make the tough decision which side of the Gulf of Finland to remain on.

This time around, the Finnish restrictions have been given an expiry date of a month, pending improvements on the coronavirus front. They also contain, as before, plenty of exemptions, which mean residents of Finland, including Estonian citizens, key service providers such as healthcare workers and truck drivers, and military and diplomatic personnel, can still largely leave and come into the country, while exceptions will also be issued on compassionate grounds.

Paet: Proper testing more effective than blanket bans

Urmas Paet, whose party, Reform, is currently in negotiations with the Center Party ahead of forming up the next coalition, also called into question the effectiveness of the Finnish measures.

He wrote: "Meanwhile, [the restrictions'] impact on public health is very questionable. A sufficient number of examples have surfaced in Europe over the past year, showing that travel restrictions have not had a significant impact on the infection rate. This has also been confirmed by international health care organizations."

Finnish authorities say over 80 cases of the so-called "British" or "South African" strains of the coronavirus have been found in the country to date, though none have been detected in Estonia. Earlier plans to step up coronavirus testing on cross-channel ferries, one of the options Jüri Ratas raised in his discussion with Sanna Marin, are likely to have been shelved in favor of limiting the numbers of entrants to Finland, including from Estonia.

Urmas Paet also called the list of exceptions to the new regime somewhat arbitrary.

"Additionally, a distinction is being made between workers pursuant to their walks of life. While health care workers coming to work in Finland from Estonia are good enough, teachers and constructions workers are not," Paet went on, adding that proof of recent, negative test results would be sufficient to mitigate risk.

"This extensive restriction is disproportionate and the positive impact thereof is this deeply questionable, considering all the major problems it causes for many people and for the EU principle of free movement," he added.

Not enough simply to be exempt, will need sufficient proof

Even being included in exempt categories is no guarantee of admission at the Finnish border from midnight Wednesday, when the regulations take effect, BNS reprots.

Employers must use a separate form justifying the applicant's key status both in terms of role and urgency, which employees must carry with them in addition to the normal documentation, BNS reports.

Students studying in Finland from other Schengen nations will also generally be permitted entry, it si reported, as well as foreign media representatives; transit to other destinations is also permissible, and those with private property in Finland should be eligible for entry still, BNS adds.

Close family will be confined to parents, children and grandparents, meaning visiting a sibling or more distant relative will not be sufficient grounds for entry

Some skeptics have pointed to April's local elections in Finland as being a factor in the national government's decision.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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