Finland ambassador: Border closure concern, won't harm bilateral relations

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Finland's ambassador to Estonia Timo Kantola talking to AK on Friday. Source: ERR

While the continuation of a closed Finnish border puts many Estonian citizens in a difficult position, relations between the two countries will remain as good as ever, Finland's ambassador to Estonia Timo Kantola, told ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK). Meanwhile, the European Commission expressed its concern over Finland's restrictions on free movement in a communique issued to ERR Friday.

As to the continued restrictions in Finland – arrivals from countries with a 14-day coronavirus rate over 25 per 100,000 inhabitants must self-quarantine, a maximum set much lower than many other countries, including Estonia (where the benchmark is 150 per 100,000) – Kantola said that these continued: "By my understanding while decisions are made how organize this procedure by our border guard personnel."

"[25 per 100,000 limit] is an earlier decision. The infection situation is still at such a level that we take the virus situation very seriously, but our own infection rate is quite low. However, we still have a tough situation in hospitals in Finland. Even with low rates, this is a serious matter," Kantola, who gave the interview in Estonian, told AK.

"When there are a very large number of people, as ferries most likely carry, then the question is how testing can be arranged. We have more experience on how to do this at Helsinki Vantaa Airport," the ambassador went on.

As reported by ERR News, Finland recently opened up its borders to arrivals by air, though the main mode of transport for the many thousands of Estonian citizens who commute between the two countries is ferry, where the preexisting coronavirus regime is still in place.

"I certainly wish that the restrictions could be further relaxed," Kantola added.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas voiced concerns over the restrictions at a meeting with the ambassador earlier Friday.

"Today's situation is also difficult for me, and we hope that the situation will ease. I also hope from a Finnish perspective that what has been agreed at EU level can be adhered to," Kantola continued in his interview with AK, referring to new rules on border crossings and travel restrictions coming into effect on July 1.

Finland, like Estonia, is part of the Schengen Area of free movement, but its unilateral departure from this, not only in respect of travel from Estonia but also from Sweden, with whom it shares both a land and a maritime border, has led to the country being one of six states which the European Commission is investigating on the matter.

Domestic legislation which would cover the topic and govern when ferry travel between Estonia and Finland might reopen is still being processed, he went on, adding that this is still to reach the Eduskunta – the Finnish parliament.

"We have a lot of Estonians [living and working in Finland] in construction, who are also very important for Finland and there are many of them in Finland. I understand that their situation is worrying, that they have not had the opportunity to travel to Estonia and see their family," he added.

"I think it is key that we remember that we have strong historical ties, and I do not think [recent events] will affect our centuries of cooperation."

European Commission to ERR: We urge Finland to end entry ban

ERR's online news in Estonian contacted the European Commission on the issue, obtaining this response Friday: "We have urged Finland to phase out the entry ban and align the measures related to cross-border commuters with the exemptions established in the Council Recommendation on the coordination of free movement restrictions in the EU. This particularly concerns Estonia and Sweden."

"The commission has been monitoring very closely the restrictions to travel imposed by Finland," Christian Wigand, spokesperson for Rule of Law, Justice, Consumers, Equality at the commission went on. 

"We also expect that Member States will adjust the existing restrictions on public health grounds to the rules agreed together in the EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation, once it enters into force," he added.

"As you know, in late February the Commission sent specific letters to six Member States, including Finland, urging them to phase out measures that are not in line with the coordinated approach of EU Member States. We continue to be in contact with the Finnish authorities."

Wigard noted that EU member states had agreed on a coordinated response in managing free movement restrictions via clear recommendations which should be followed by all and avoid any potential discrimination.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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