Prime minister issues open appeal to Finnish counterpart over entry bar

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Prime ministers of Finland and Estonia, Sanna Marin (left) and Kaja Kallas. Source: Finnish government office.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) has addressed her Finnish counterpart, Sanna Marin, in a fresh appeal over continued entry restrictions on Estonian citizens and residents imposed by Finland.

In a lengthy written and open letter, republished by Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat (link in Finnish), the Estonian prime minister points out that Estonia's coronavirus infection rates have fallen, expressing a hope that the two countries might reach a solution which would allow Estonians working in Finland to commute across the Gulf of Finland, as happened prior to the pandemic.

In her address, Kallas referred to the fact that Finnish trade depends to a significant extent on transit of supplies through Estonia.

"Trucks cannot be loaded on a plane," she wrote, referencing a law change last week whereby Finland opened its borders to arrivals by plane, but not by ferry – also the primary means of transport for Estonian citizens and residents commuting between the two countries.

"It is not right that Estonians working in Finland cannot travel from one country to another without the risk of losing their job, and this is also contrary to the rules of the EU," she continued.

Kallas opened the letter by saying she was: "Worried. I have told you about our worries before, in Kesäranta (Finland), Porto, in Brussels and also over the phone."

"For four-and-a-half months now, children from thousands of Estonian homes have missed their fathers and mothers and have been hoping that they will come home by the weekend. Sadly, because this hope has proven in vain week after week, and there is no end in sight. Dear Sanna, such a situation cannot persist in the European Union in the 2000s," she went on.

Given the impracticalities of either commuting by air or submitting to quarantine when arriving by sea, the current Finnish border regime, in place since early this year and due to run at least to June 27, has meant that in effect, the thousands who commute from Estonia have had to choose which side of the Gulf of Finland to remain on – at home in Estonia or in Finland, with many choosing the latter in order to protect their jobs, it is reported.

The two prime ministers met in Helsinki soon after Kallas became Estonian head of government in late January, and discussed the issue then as well.

Kallas also noted Estonia has put forward several proposals for alleviating the issue without jeopardizing Finland's relative low coronavirus rates, to no avail.

Finland currently only permits quarantine-free entry to arrivals from two, small European states – Iceland and Malta – since its threshold figure, beyond which mandatory quarantine is triggered, is 25 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the preceding 14 days, compared with a rate of 150 set for quarantine-free entry into Estonia.

While the arguments put forward in Finland for persisting with the current restrictions are to prevent a new spread of the virus, it has been repeatedly pointed out that the country goes to the polls this Sunday, meaning the decision has a political dimension ahead of the local elections. Estonia also has local elections on the horizon, in October.

Kallas also noted that Finland's border regime – which it also imposes on its western neighbor, Sweden – is contrary to EU principles of free movement, something which the European Commission is aware of and looking at, as it is with several other countries, including Germany, who have installed similar measures.

Exemptions from entry restrictions include "unavoidable reasons", close family reasons, the provision of essential supplies and services, and those with diplomatic passports. Finnish citizens and residents are also exempt, though, it is argued, this has meant Estonian citizens having to take up Finnish residency against their will – often due to taxation considerations – in order to resolve the impasse.

No response from Sanna Marin has as of the time of writing been reported.

The entire open letter from Kaja Kallas (link in Finnish) is here.

Kallas had a week ago summonsed Finland's ambassador to Estonia to discuss the matter, while foreign minister Eva-Maria Liimets (Center), two of her predecessors, all seven of Estonia's MEPs and Estonia's ambassador to Finland, Sven Sakkov, have all directly protested the ongoing restrictions.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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