Foreign minister: We have done everything we can to restore labor migration

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Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets says that Estonia has done more or less everything in its power to explain to Finland the need to restore regular labor migration. Without results so far.

The Estonian government has taken several noteworthy steps to protest the unfair treatment of Estonian citizens by Finnish authorities in the past week. For example, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas summoned the Finnish ambassador last Friday. Could public criticism have started sooner? Meetings of mutual working groups have not been much use so far. Should we have wagged our finger at Finland on the highest level sooner?

Estonia has indeed been concerned as Finland has not heeded recommendations for the restoration of labor migration between the two countries despite lower Covid infection rates in the region. We have made several proposals for restoring safe travel and been waiting for Finland to lift the restrictions it introduced in January.

Estonia's infection rate started dropping rapidly in late April and recent arguments for stopping the spread of the virus are simply not applicable anymore. It is June 8 today, whereas we still don't know when the border will be opened. Will the people working in Finland be able to return home by Midsummer Day?

Estonia has made efforts to see labor migration restored as soon as possible. We have been concerned over the fact Finland has not made these decisions in a situation where the infection rate has indeed come down rapidly. The EU has also recommended member states restore labor migration.

We hope Finland will consider our arguments and efforts so that people from Estonia could enter Finland if they have a negative Covid test result, vaccination certificate or proof that they've recently recovered from the virus.

When will they lift the restrictions?

We believe it requires an infection rate of 25 (14-day Covid infection rate per 100,000 people – ed.). While 25 seems like a very low rate today, it was below that for all member states last summer.

Does this concern regular travel as well as commuting?

We have no information to suggest Finland currently accepts any other rate. Because labor migration is classified as an exception without a separate rate, the coefficient is not that important insofar as we want Finland to consider the exception and alleviate travel restrictions.

How have Finnish diplomats in Helsinki and Estonia reacted to what our Ambassador Sven Sakkov told ERR on Monday, that the labor migration situation is wrong, unfair and tragic. Ambassadors have not used such words to describe mutual relations in the past.

The Estonian side has been concerned over the fact that we have not managed to help our people working in Finland to solve this problem. People need to choose between working and spending time with their families. We want to tell our Finnish colleagues that the situation is deeply worrying and we hope they will finally understand and help resolve the impasse.

Have you talked to your Finnish colleague over the phone or met with them in recent days?

I have discussed the situation with my Finnish colleague on several occasions. We last met face-to-face in Lisbon and discussed a possible solution. We discuss it every two weeks to stay up to speed. I have been informing my colleague of Estonia's falling infection rate and improving situation. We have had close contacts in that regard, while I must admit it has not brought a solution closer.

I'm sure you have analyzed the Finnish government's decision to allow commuting by plane. Was this decision made to avoid European Commission infringement proceedings? Can Finland say that the border is open formally?

We were indeed baffled by this decision of preferring some modes of transport to others in a situation where Estonian shippers have created conditions for testing on board ferries that would make sure people traveling to Finland are not infectious. The Finnish side has told us that the decision follows Finnish ports not being ready for mass travel.

The Finnish government has said that the border will remain closed at least until June 20. Have you given thought to weather Estonia has any levers left should labor migration remain banned after that?

I think we have done more or less everything in our power. We have explained the situation to the Finnish side and proposed trust measures to really assure Finland that alleviating restrictions would not add to the spread of Covid in Finland. It is the Finnish government's decision from here. We can only hope it will be an empathetic one and that restrictions will be lifted.

How satisfied are you with your own efforts and those of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in this regard?

We have indeed made efforts to explain these positions and I have said before that Estonia and Finland have adopted very different approaches to the virus. Estonia has tried to keep society open throughout this cycle of the virus, while Finland has gone down a very conservative path. Their case and mortality rates have also been much lower than Estonia's.

We have done our best in this context to convince them to reopen labor migration but Finland has maintained its conservative approach that prioritizes public health. Indeed, we have not been able to convince them that easing labor migration restrictions would not have a negative effect there.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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