News agency: Finland opening borders to work commuters next week
Finland is set to ease entry restrictions from next week, Finnish newswire STT reports. The move, which STT says the Finnish government will rule on on Thursday, will likely, if it goes ahead, allow Estonian citizens and residents who had been unable to commute between the two countries, as they had done in pre-pandemic times, to resume doing so. Additionally, all those who can prove they have completed an anti-coronavirus vaccination course will also be allowed to enter Finland freely, it is reported.
While Finland opened its borders to arrivals by air, this was not practical for the bulk of work commuters coming from Estonia, who would still be subject to quarantine requirements.
Similarly, arrivals at Finland's western land borders with Sweden and Norway, were subject to the same entry regime.
STT says the Finnish cabinet will open work migration in all directions.
The continued adherence to the current restrictions, which go beyond EU requirements in terms of freedom of movement, had been the subject of extensive political pressure from Estonia in recent weeks.
Finland had rationalized the policy on the basis of concerns about potential coronavirus spread.
Borders may open in general to those who have been vaccinated
STT also reported that entry would be open to all who had completed a coronavirus course, regardless of their reason for entry.
Finland had set a maximum 14-day coronavirus rate per 100,000 inhabitants of 25. Arrivals from countries with a higher rate, which is the vast majority of European states, would have to undergo quarantine.
Finland's own rate was only slightly below that as of Wednesday morning, at 22.7, whereas Estonia's' stood at 64.1. Sweden's was considerably higher, at 160.0 – meaning arrivals from Sweden coming to Estonia would also have to quarantine, since Estonia's benchmark figure is 150.
Norway's rate was reported at 53.9.
STT also reported that the Finnish decision is also aimed at allowing in Russian citizens who own real estate in Finland, and who have not been able to be in the country, and consequently been barred from taking care of their property/ies, in the meantime.
The current Finnish travel restrictions were due to expire on June 27, having been extended on a rolling basis, month-by-month since the beginning of the year.
Estonian prime minister: Work towards border reopening is ongoing
Speaking at Riigikogu question time on Wednesday, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said that work aimed at Finland's easing of its restrictions on entry, at least for those traveling for work, was continually ongoing, at all levels, particularly regarding officialdom, where the communications channels are continuously being used.
Kallas said: "There's constant communication going on, and also between governments, at the level of different ministries, to resolve these concerns, and we're trying to do all of this in such a way that we can enjoy free movement of people while at the same time we will still get along with our neighbors."
"In some ways, Finland is hostage to its good indicators," Kallas added, referring to the fact that the country's coronavirus rates have generally been lower than Estonia's.
"For our part, we have tried to bring in various measures, such as the requirement for a negative test result when traveling by ship" Kallas went on. "We are ready to cooperate and we definitely want our freedom of movement to continue to function."
Kallas will be meeting with her Finnish counterpart, Sanna Marin, at a European Council meeting next week, BNS reports, where the matter is likely to be revisited.
Kallas denied a charge of finger-pointing following an open letter published in the Finnish media late last week, in which she pleaded for the reopening of the border, for work commuting, on humanitarian grounds, given Estonian citizens and residents have had to decide which side of the Gulf of Finland to remain on, meaning links between families and friends have been severed.
Kallas had essentially said that Estonia-Finland relations may cool, if the Finnish government did not ease its entry regime – which also goes beyond principles set out by the EU and for which Finland, along with several other countries including Germany, is being scrutinized by the European Commission.
"[The letter] was a plea [to her] to understand the concerns of those Estonians who work in Finland but have families in Estonia, who have not seen each other for months and whose children have not seen their parents for months. It was a plea to understand the concerns that we, the Estonian people, have," Kallas told the Riigkogu.
While freedom of movement is open to Finnish residents, meaning those Estonians who have Finnish residency can cross the border, the objection that the Finnish border restrictions "force" such individuals to take Finnish residency have been raised.
Being a Finnish resident would require an individual to become a taxpayer in Finland.
This article was updated to include information regarding entry into Finland for those who have been vaccinated, along with Kaja Kallas' comments before the Riigikogu.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte