Finland travel entry bar not likely to be lifted in May, June

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Border checks in Helsinki's western ferry terminal earlier this year. Source: ERR

Finland is unlikely to ease border restrictions put in place in response to rising coronavirus rates early on this year. The current restrictions, which have interfered with commuting between Estonia and Finland in particular, were due to end on May 25.

The English-language page of Finnish public broadcaster Yle said Tuesday that the plans, announced last month, would be put back till later in the summer, due to coronavirus fears.

The original plan would have been to lift the stricter restrictions on May 25 and allow travel from the Schengen Zone, including Estonia, but this is now likely to be pushed back after June.

The current Finnish regime only allows residents of that country, close relatives of residents and key workers entry, while lifting restrictions would depend on vaccination pace and the organization of health care activities, in addition to coronavirus rates.

Arrivals from Iceland may be one exception to the border closure from among Schengen Zone countries, while priority will be given to the country's border with Norway, in the far north, and consideration of communities living on both sides of the border.

Estonia's 14-day coronavirus rate per 100,000 inhabitants is 304.5 as of Tuesday, while Finland's stood at 53.0 as of last Friday.

Märt Volmer, Undersecretary for European Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told ERR recently that a working group would meet to discuss the situation on May 24, while communication, including at ambassadorial level, had been ongoing, with restoring labor migration the primary concern.

Finland is one of six countries which the European Commission warned after the unilateral reinstallation of its border controls in February, amid rising coronavirus rates Europe-wide.  Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Hungary and Sweden were the other five.

Volmer noted in an interview given to ERR that the European Commission was aware of the situation, which, it has been argued, are not in line with EU principles of unity or free movement, adding that while the commission worked at its own pace, measures of redress such as fines do exist, though in the first instance the commission would talk to countries in question.

Meanwhile, former foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said that Estonia should stress its ongoing vaccine program in attempts to reinstall travel to and from Finland, noting that the latter had already said last autumn that no total ban on entry would subsequently be put in place, nor would cross-border work travel be jeopardized.

Reinsalu called Finland's current line a pity, and said that pressure should be put on Estonia's northern neighbor via all channels possible, in order to resolve the situation, though he expressed skepticism over the use of the European Commission as one of these.

Reinsalu, who was foreign minister when the pandemic first arrived last spring, said he had initiated an address at the Riigikogu, which would express parliament's desire to co-operate between the two countries in solving the issue and would address the Eduskunta, the Finnish parliament in Helsinki. The Eduskunta approved the EU's recovery facility package issued in response to the pandemic, on Tuesday.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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