Foreign minister to European Commission: Finland entry regime unduly harsh

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West Ferry Terminal in Helsinki. Source: Port of Helsinki.

Foreign minister Eva-Maria Liimets (Center) has addressed the European Commission concerning ongoing travel restrictions imposed by Estonia's northern neighbor, Finland, calling them disproportionate, and noting they continue to impede work commuting between the two countries.

Liimets wrote in her address that: "For Estonia, the principle of the free movement of people is of utmost importance.

"It is one of the fundamental principles of the EU Health concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led several countries to impose various restrictions on the free movement of people. However, these must be justified and proportional, and should not entail practical impediments to cross-border labor migration," she went on, according to a ministry press release.

"If member states impose restrictions that violate these criteria, especially when it comes to labor migration, it has a serious impact on the interests and rights of the citizens of other member states. I would like to draw the attention of the European Commission to the restrictions Finland has imposed on free movement in the Schengen area," the minister continued in the communique, dated June 9.

Recipients were European Commissioner for Transport Adina Valean, Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johannson, Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders and Commissioner for Jobs Nicolas Schmidt, while Liimets also followed up the letter with a phone call to Valean, to further draw attention to the restrictions Finland has imposed on free movement in the Schengen area.

The foreign minister also spoke to Adina Valean on the phone Wednesday. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The foreign ministry says Estonia is concerned about the fact that, while the Finnish government decided on June 3 to allow entry to people working in Finland starting from June 7, this is only possible by plane, while the justification for these restrictions remains unclear. 

In practical terms, since the bulk of work commuting brings Estonian citizens and residents to Finland via ferry and not by plane, the ongoing quarantine requirement means that nothing has changed substantively.

The foreign ministry says Estonia considers the restrictions on free movement currently in force in Finland disproportionate and unjustified, adding Liimets would like the European Commission to assess whether they are in line with European Union law.

Liimets referred to Article 21, para. 1 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, which sets out the terms of the right of free movement within the Schengen Area – which both countries are a member of – and also Article 45 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, which addresses freedom of movement and of residence.

Freedom of movement should be prioritized while harsher restrictions should only be used as a last resort, under extraordinary circumstances, and proportional in nature, the minister said – criteria which Finland's current regime no longer meets, she said.

Finnish public broadcaster YLE says that while the current restrictions run to June 27, the Finnish cabinet will be meeting to discuss the matter further next week.

Finland has also applied the same restrictions to its western neighbor, Sweden.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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