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‘Door to the EU’: Visa freedom with Finland reestablished 20 years ago

Unveiling the commemorative plaque, May 1, 2017.
Unveiling the commemorative plaque, May 1, 2017. Source: (ERR)

Twenty years ago, Finland and Estonia reintroduced visa freedom for their citizens. Tarmo Kõuts, who was the director of the Estonian Border Guard at the time, told ERR’s “Aktuaalne Kaamera” newscast that this step was the beginning of the country’s way into the European Union.

The first time visa freedom between the two countries was established was 90 years ago, and this lasted until the Second World War, and the occupation. That Estonians were able to travel to Finland again without having to apply for a visa was celebrated on Monday by a mock visa queue outside the Finnish embassy on Tallinn’s Toompea Hill.

Timo Täyrynen, who was Finland’s consul in Tallinn in the mid-90s, told “Aktuaalne Kaamera” that they used to have a lot of work, and that there were queues of up to a few hundred people outside the embassy at the time.

“Between 1993 and 1995 we issued somewhere around 120,000 visas. More in the summer, and fewer in the winter,” Täyrynen said.

Today, more than nine million people travel between Finland and Estonia every year. 20 years ago, the same distance meant having to queue for hours, and stand in line starting from the early morning. It also meant having to present an invitation by someone in Finland.

Back in the day an advisor at the Finnish embassy in Estonia, today’s ambassador, Kirsti Narinen, participated in the visa freedom negotiations in the 90s. As she explained, there were a few obstacles that needed to be overcome first.

“There needed to be a passport register stating who had which passport number. We didn’t want to move the queues from the consulate to the port, which is why machine-readable passports were needed that could be checked quickly,” Narinen said.

Then-director of the Border Guard, Tarmo Kõuts, told “Aktuaalne Kaamera” that visa freedom with Finland had a greater meaning than one might think. According to Kõuts, the agreement was Estonia’s door to the EU, as Finland had the reputation of a safe country with a high living standard.

“When Finland said that Estonia was an equal partner to them now, then this meant something in Europe. After this, Germany, France, and the countries that followed after them agreed as well that there could be visa freedom with Estonia, and could therefore back its EU membership as well,” Kõuts said.

A commemorative plaque was unveiled at Swedbank Estonia’s headquarters on Monday, where in the 1990s the Finnish embassy was located.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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