Little progress made to ease Estonia-Finland travel restrictions

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Ferry Terminal D in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Little progress has been made to relax coronavirus travel restrictions between Finland and Estonia despite dozens of meetings held between officials from both countries. However, there is hope the situation may change with the introduction of the EU's coronavirus passport.

ERR's Estonian portal looked at how the government has been trying to find a solution with Finland and said, at least publicly, the concerns of the Estonian state are not very visible. Thousands of Estonians work in Finland and regularly commute between the two countries but this has not been possible for more than six months after Estonia's coronavirus rose rapidly in December. 

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) told ERR in a statement that she has spoken to Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin about labor migration on several occasions including on the European level.

"I have pointed out to the [EU] council that restricting labor migration is not in line with EU Council recommendations. and concerns the way of life of thousands of Estonian families, and therefore we will continue to work for a solution," she said.

The topic is regularly discussed at meetings, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Kristina Ots, told ERR on Tuesday, and the foreign ministers of the two countries communicate regularly.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets (Center) paid an official visit to Helsinki on January 29 and spoke on the phone with her Finnish counterpart on April 15 and 30. The pair also discussed the issue within the European Union Foreign Relations Council.

President Kersti Kaljulaid, Speaker of the Riigikogu Jüri Ratas (Center), the prime minister, the minister of defense, minister of social affairs, minister of foreign trade and many other Estonian state representatives have also raised concerns and expressed a readiness to take additional measures if necessary to find a solution to the situation.

Ots said the Riigikogu also agreed to send an appeal to the Finnish Parliament which received 83 votes in favor.

"Estonia has raised the issue of COVID-19-related movement restrictions as the most important topic in almost all recent bilateral meetings, including the impact on the families of cross-border workers," Ots said.

Finland: EU digital corona certificate could make a difference

Sanna-Leena Immanen, media adviser at the Finnish Embassy in Estonia: "The current government's decision to significantly restrict business travel is valid until June 15. The restrictions also apply to arrivals from countries other than Estonia on a uniform basis. The Finnish government discusses the restrictions regularly."

Asked how Finland will react to the European Commission's recommendations made on Monday that member states should harmonize and relax movement restrictions for holders of a certificate, Immanen said the legislation is being prepared.

"The government's proposals to parliament to change the coronavirus strategy are nearing completion. Bills have been sent out for evaluation," she said. 

Immanen said Minister of Family and Social Services Krista Kiuru said on May 21 that a certificate confirming vaccination, recovery from the disease or a recent negative test will be taken into account when crossing the border.

Finland's current rules allow travel from countries with a 14-day infection rate below 25 per 100,000 people. Estonia's is currently 163.8 but was over 1,000 earlier this year.

Only people who do jobs defined as essential by the Finnish government can travel between the two countries. This has put thousands of Estonian families in a difficult situation as they must choose between work and their families. Estonian residents who have stayed in Finland for a long time may also become a Finnish tax resident without wanting to.

Finland's actions are contrary to the European Union's principle of free movement and have also been highlighted by the European Commission. 

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Editor: Helen Wright

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