Valga mayor wants removal of all border checks when crossing to Latvia

Estonian-Latvian border in Valga.
Estonian-Latvian border in Valga. Source: SCANPIX/Valgamaalane/Arvo Meeks

Rural municipality mayor of the South Estonian town of Valga Margus Lepik (Reform) says that document checks at the border which separates the town from the Latvian town of Valka should be removed, including to allow minors to cross the border between the twin towns without parental consent.

Lepik says that with the growing movement between the two towns, for instance during jointly-organized exhibitions, festivals and sports events, the requirement for having a travel document to hand should be lifted.

"Last year, a kindergarten group wanted to travel 500 meters to visit another group [across the border] they had a friendship arrangement with. The group's leaders wanted to do things by the book and asked the police what documents were needed. When it became clear that the written consent of both parents was required, they did not venture over the border even though the kindergarten's backyard abuts on to the border," Lepik said, noting that he was away from the town at the time.

Lepik proposes a "Valga-Valka special zone" which would cover both towns from within, with a controlled state border running round the outskirts of both towns.

The proposal is not the first of its kind, Lepik says, with the two towns coming under one municipality being an ideal. However, it has been ignored at national level, according to the mayor, in both countries, with former MEP Igor Gräzin (Centre) the only national-level politician in Estonia so far to have welcomed the idea.

"In essence, we are still in the same position in both countries. There are politicians and officials who are very aware of [the problem]. At the same time, this usually clashes with general rules and bureaucratic obstacles," Lepik explained.

The question also remains whether a different approach in border checks is needed in the town(s). The Police and Border Guard Board have said that no unaccompanied minors have to date been sent back from the border, entering Valka, nor are Latvian children crossing in the other direction checked, ERR's online Estonian news reports.

"We have a joint art school on the Latvian side of the broder, and the children cross the border all the time as a result. But unfortunately, we have no guarantee that checks will not happen. Our goal is still to comply with the laws of both countries, and for these things to work properly, we would still need to change the regulations both of them," Lepik continued.

Both Estonia and Latvia joined the Schengen Area of free movement in 2007, resulting in the removal of border checkpoints. However the authorities of both countries can still carry out spot checks, and documents are needed. Those living in Estonia on a resident's permit should still take their passport when traveling to Latvia or Finland, also in the Schengen zone, since the Estonian ID card is not a travel document for non-citizens.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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