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Party leaders disagree with Helme's Ukrainian visa comments

Chairpersons of the parliamentary parties on ETV's
Chairpersons of the parliamentary parties on ETV's "Esimene stuudio" on Wednesday night. Sept. 11, 2019. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Party leaders agreed that changing the visa-free status of Ukrainians was not possible on Wednesday evening, during a television debate on "Esimene stuudio" (ES), calling the country an "ally".

The topic arose after it was reported on Wednesday that Interior Minister Mart Helme wrote an article saying the agreement which gives Ukrainians visa-free access to Estonia, and the EU Schengen area, should be suspended.

Speaking about the topic on ES, leaders from opposition Reform Party, and coalition partners Centre Party and Isamaa Party agreed visa liberalisation was a positive way to support Ukraine.   

Helme said he had asked the interior ministry to investigate whether visa-free travel with Ukraine could be abolished, but had anticipated that it would not be possible, since both countries are part of the Schengen visa area.

"I wanted to point out that we have a very strong migratory pressure from the east," Helme explained when raising the issue of visa-free travel, arguing that migration from the east has exceeded the tolerance limit, requiring intervention. 

He said the Police and Border Guard is constantly picking up people arriving at the border from Ukraine who "come here like tourists but come here to work," Helme said. "Unfortunately, we cannot abolish visa-free travel with Ukraine, but this is a topic on the table."

However, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) did not confirm that visa liberalization with Ukraine was an issue at all.

"Visa liberalization with Ukraine has certainly been our fundamental decision, supporting Ukraine has been our fundamental decision, and it cannot be unilaterally revoked. If people come in under one pretext but do something else, then you have to deal with it. Of course, we support Ukraine," the Ratas said.

Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas referred to the issue of visa liberalization for Ukraine as yet another example of how the Ratas government is step-by-step changing Estonia's foreign policy. "We certainly have more to gain from visa liberalization with Ukraine than to lose," she said.

Ratas argued against her saying: "Neither the Estonian government nor the Riigikogu in this coalition will change Estonia's foreign policy course."

Chairman of Isamaa Helir-Valdor Seeder said Ukraine was an ally of Estonia, which is why Estonia's goal is to support and build Ukraine. However, he added this was so Ukrainians do not need to come to work in Estonia in the distant future.

"It is in Estonia's interest - a democratic and stable state. It is not wise to impose visa restrictions on Ukraine." Seeder said.

Kallas insisted that while the coalition appeared united in its message, it's actions were not united. For example, the Prime Minister was unaware of Helme's initiative on the issue of visa-free travel for Ukraine, but there are also divergent views, on issues such as pharmacy reform and a new potential Prosecutor General.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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