Interior Ministry: Legal basis exists for restricting EU tourist visas
As the EU has failed to reach an agreement to restrict the entry of Russian citizens, eastern countries may choose to act separately and ban the entry of Russian citizens with Schengen visas issued by other countries. The legal basis for doing so exists in Estonia, however it would be better off adopting a joint decision together with other neighboring countries.
Estonia could impose a unilateral entry ban on Russian tourists for security reasons under the International Sanctions Act or State Borders Act.
"There is practically no substantive difference," said Veiko Kommusaar, undersecretary for internal security at the Ministry of the Interior. "Just one is a sanction that countries can impose unilaterally on various grounds. The advantage of implementing the border code is that not all of our neighbors have sanctions laws, however everyone has the border code, and of course we're continuing to consult with our closest neighbors regarding the feasibility of the joint implementation of this border code."
Whether Brussels may launch infringement procedures against Estonia over doing so is uncertain.
"What's very important to the Commission is that all member states are unified on this issue, that an agreement is reached and that [countries act] according to what is agreed on — but uniformly," explained Hanna Hinrikus, deputy director of the European Commission Representation in Estonia.
EU law expert Carri Ginter said that the Schengen agreement is an independent international agreement not governed by EU rules.
"If we impose an entry ban on all Schengen visa holders because they are from Russia, that could cause issues with the fulfillment of our international obligations, but if we're smart about it, then it could nonetheless lead to a reasonable outcome," Ginter said.
"The Schengen Agreement provides for a public policy exception that member states can use if people with other countries' visas want to enter our territory," he explained. "If an individual poses a threat to Estonia's public policy, Estonia may ban them from entering the country. This just needs to be justified in a few words."
Nonetheless, he added it would be better to adopt a joint decision together with Estonia's closest neighbors, as otherwise Russian citizens could enter Estonia via Latvia or Finland.
22 member states in Schengen
The Schengen area currently includes 22 of 27 EU member states — Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden — as well as non-EU states Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
The European microstates of Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City are likewise de facto members as they maintain open borders for passenger traffic with their neighbors France and Italy.
Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!
Editor: Aili Vahtla