In an inquiry submitted to the European Commission, Estonian MEP Yana Toom (Center/ALDE) claimed that by restricting the entry of Russian citizens, Estonia together with three other EU member states agreed to violating the Schengen Borders Code (SBC).
"As the external borders of the European Union are governed by the SBC, any refusal of entry would have to be in line with the provisions thereof," Toom wrote in her inquiry.
She noted that Article 14 (2) thereof clearly states "'that entry may only be refused by a substantiated decision stating the precise reasons for the refusal,' which consequently means that any decision for refusal of entry has to be taken on a case-by-case basis."
The Estonian MEP noted that "moreover, entry may only be refused if the conditions listed in Article 6 (1) are not fulfilled; the list of conditions are exhaustive as clearly indicated on the standard form for refusal of entry at the border..." and added that the SBC "does not provide for any possibility for member states to take any additional measures."
Thus, she continued, any "blanket ban" on the entry into the EU by people holding a valid Schengen tourist visa issued by a member state would therefore constitute a breach of the SBC and seriously undermine the European legal order.
"As the Schengen acquis is one of the fundamental pillars of the European Union, an initiative from several member states to breach the provisions sets a dangerous precedent," Toom stressed.
"As the initiative of four member states to introduce a 'blanket ban' on entry into the European Union of Russian citizens holding a valid Schengen tourist visa [constitutes] a clear breach of the Schengen acquis, when will the Commission send a formal letter of notice?" she asked.
Sending a letter of formal notice is the first step in the EU's infringement procedure.
"As an EU member state, Estonia is obligated to adhere to European law just as Belgium, Poland or Hungary are," Toom stressed. "Thus I eagerly await the Commission's response. If the rule 'you can't, but if you want to, then you can' starts to apply in Europe, then what principles of the rule of law can we possibly talk about?"
'As border states, we must keep Europe safe'
"Together with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, we decided to introduce common restrictions on tourism for Russian nationals to protect public order and security," Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said on Thursday according to a government press release.
"Russia has brought war to Europe and is using all tools to undermine our societies," she continued. "As the border states of the EU, we must keep Europe safe. Currently it is not possible to ensure that the Russian citizens entering the EU through Estonia do not pose a security threat. A regional agreement has been reached and now we will continue working toward a tourism restriction on Russian citizens in the entire European Union."
The Estonian prime minister said that the four countries had already previously assessed the measure as necessary.
Previously established exceptions to the restriction will remain in force upon the implementation of the ban, including for Russian nationals visiting family members or co-parents of minor children living in the Schengen area on a valid legal basis, Russian nationals with a short-stay visa and registered employment in Estonia or with a student visitor visa, diplomats, on humanitarian grounds as well as for dissidents.
Transit without delay will also be allowed to people who need to travel through Estonia to reach their country of residence.
These exemptions will also apply when crossing Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish borders.
Nearly 50,000 Estonian-issued visas
As of Monday, September 5, Russian nationals hold 49,804 valid visas issued by Estonia, 47,998 of which are short-stay and 1,805 of which long-stay visas. In 19,285 cases, the indicated purpose of travel is tourism.
Other countries issue more than 3 million Schengen visas a year, valid for up to five years and allowing multiple entry to the Schengen area. An estimated at least 10 million Russian citizens hold a valid short-stay Schengen visa.
Click here to read the joint statement regarding the entry ban issued by the prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland on Thursday.
Editor: Aili Vahtla