Estonia smart border crossing payment system in jeopardy from EU

Minister of Public Administration Janek Mäggi (Centre).
Minister of Public Administration Janek Mäggi (Centre). Source: ERR

Estonia is required to terminated its fee-based booking and waiting area system for vehicles at the country's eastern border with the Russian Federation, since no country may make greater demands on those leaving the Schengen area, which Estonia is part of, than has been established in union-wide rules.

The European Commission, the part of the EU responsible for legislation, implementing decisions, upholding treaties the  and managing the bloc's day-to-day business, has explained that Schengen border rules have been established very precisely. 

These requirements include exhaustive details on what happens with those leaving a Schengen country's borders. Paying for a queue number or waiting area are not requirements, thus they must be removed in Estonia, the Commission says.

A ''smart'' booking system has been in development on Estonia's eastern border for some time, which entails drivers booking a time for border crossing and then retiring to a paid waiting area which reportedly includes facilities like showers.

The European Commission has expressed concerns that money is just for that – queueing and waiting, and informed Estonia of its views last week.

Janek Mäggi (Centre), Minister of Public Administration and head of the interior ministry's border guard policy department, says he hopes that Estonia will be able to get an exception to these rules from the commission.

"We believe that traffic management measures are not unde Schengen border rules jurisdiction. However, the commission is of the opinion that the Schengen border rules regulate everything, including then the management of traffic on the roads approaching border crossing points,'' said Mr Mäggi.

''I suppose we have different principle interpretations," he continued.

The European Commission for its part says that whilst paid bookings and waiting areas are a part of traffic management in some sense, essentially, exiting the Schengen area is still being restricted.

Estonia not only Schengen Zone state operating such systems on external border

The current booking system and waiting areas reportedly bring in around €2.5-3 million per annum, from passenger car fee of €1.50 euros and a waiting area fee of €3.

Similar booking systems are apparently also in use in Finland and Lithuania, two other countries with external Schengen zone borders (Finland with the Russian Federation, Lithuania with Belarus and, via the Kaliningrad exclave, Russia too) and, according to Mr Mäggi, the Commission is not making demands on those countries about their systems at present.

In Finland, the crossing area is financed solely from the state budget, while in Lithuania, the base sum is financed from a combination of state budget and additional fees paid by private individuals crossing the border.

Estonia also has a land border with Latvia to the south, and maritime borders with Finland and Sweden. These countries are all in the Schengen Zone.

Construction of a properly-demarcated border with the Russian Federation is an on-going project, with tens of millions of Euros due to be invested.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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