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Finland set to extend some of Europe’s strictest travel restrictions

Yle has learned that the government sees no alternative to continued border controls.

Rajavartiolaitos suorittaa rajatarkastuksia Torniossa
Finland is one of the few European countries that still checks all arrivals, such as these on the Swedish border in Tornio. Image: Antti Ullakko / Yle

Last spring, Finland was one of many EU countries that re-imposed inspections on all its borders. Now Finland is one of the few that is still checking every person entering the country.

According to the European Commission, the only other countries in the normally passport-free Schengen Area that are now checking all arrivals are Denmark, Hungary and non-EU state Norway.

Finland has Europe’s lowest rates of coronavirus infections and deaths, partly due to strict border checks. This autumn the gap between the state of the pandemic in Finland and that in the rest of Europe has widened.

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Sisäministeri Maria Ohisalo (vihr.) vierailemassa Ruotsin rajalla Torniossa.
Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green) spoke with Border Guards on the Swedish border in Tornio last May. Image: Antti Ullakko / Yle

Next week the government must decide whether to keep in place one of Europe’s strictest border policies after late November. Yle has learned that the matter is to be decided on Thursday, and that the answer will likely be yes.

Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green) declined on Sunday to say what she will propose to the rest of the government.

“We’ll comment when the matter is completed settled and we have discussed it together. But it’s clear that the borders must be secure in all situations,” Ohisalo said.

Under the Schengen Agreement, a country may in principle only reinstate internal border controls for up to six months at a time.

Chancellor of Justice blocked last border decision

“We’re already in an unlawful situation in regard to the Schengen six-month rule. But certainly, before we have a proper testing model on the borders, there must be some other model in place,” Ohisalo told Yle.

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Tuomas Pöysti hämärtyvässä illassa Senaatintorilla. Tuomas on pukeutunut tummansiniseen pukuun. Vaaleansinisen kauluspaudan parina on punainanen kravatti ja rintataskusta pilkistää punaisilla ympyröillä koristeltu valkonen liina. Kasvomaski on käytössä.
Chancellor of Justice Tuomas Pöysti on Senate Square. Image: Retu Liikanen / Yle

Yle has learned that there is currently no alternative to internal border controls as Finland has not been able to establish a waterproof system of testing and quarantines. However, the extension may run into a constitutional obstacle.

Chancellor of Justice Tuomas Pöysti, who is responsible for ensuring the legality of the government’s decisions, has maintained a strict line on coronavirus restrictions that in his view may infringe on rights and freedoms guaranteed under Finnish and EU law.

Last month, the Interior Ministry prepared a decision to extend the border controls, but according to Yle’s sources Pöysti blocked the decision, arguing there was insufficient justification for it.

Tourist industry faces bleak Christmas

According to Pöysti, during the early months of the pandemic, the European Commission allowed countries to suspend the freedom of movement.

“But now that the situation has dragged on, the Commission has begun to demand that there be other ways to suppress the epidemic,” Pöysti said.

Due to Finland’s restrictions, EU citizens are in almost as weak a position as citizens of non-EU countries in terms of access to the country. Since entry is only allowed for essential reasons, leisure travel is not possible, which is resulting in massive losses for the Finnish tourist industry – for which the Christmas season is usually a crucial period.

On the other hand, it is unlikely that large numbers of tourists would come to Finland even if border restrictions were loosened. Most of the countries that usually send the most visitors to Finland have restricted or strongly discouraged non-essential foreign travel.

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