Deputy Secretary General: Asking nicely of no use

Toomas Kask
, Saatejuht
Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Märt Volmer.
Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Märt Volmer. Photo: Sander Ilvest

Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Märt Volmer said on the “Otse Postimehest” webcast that while the ministry has been active in trying to solve the Estonia-Finland labor migration issue, efforts have remained too polite and hidden from the public eye.

What are the latest developments? Has domestic and foreign pressure on the Finnish government reached a point where they will have to address the Estonia-Finland migration issue?

Yes. In addition to pressure, the situation has changed quite a lot. Estonia’s infection rate dropped below 100 today (14-day infection rate per 100,000 residents – ed.). The Finnish government is running out of sensible reasons for maintaining the travel restrictions. Pressure from us on the one hand and their own people – unions and the tourism industry are concerned. As well as ferries and ports, as the recent decision left them high and dry. All of it adds up for a background where it would be sensible for the Finnish government to ease restrictions.

The Finnish government is preparing to alleviate restrictions. While we do not have a crystal ball to say when that might be, what does your gut tell you?

The Finns have suggested that they have their own exit strategy based on which airline traffic will be opened first, followed by other modes of transport. It is difficult to gauge what the Finns are thinking when you talk to them. They are similar to Estonians in that regard – difficult to read between the lines. Working group contacts did not suggest alleviation is out of the question. However, we won’t know until the Finnish government makes a decision.

Estonian Ambassador to Finland Sven Sakkov said the embassy has been making efforts to see the return of labor migration since the start of the year but without success. Has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs put pressure on Finland and to what extent?

It was not a tier one topic for us when the decision was made in January and entered into force in February. That said, the Finnish migration problem has been the top priority of the minister and everyone active on the European heading for the last few months. It is taking up most of our time.

How intensive have the negotiations been? How often have ministry officials met with their Finnish colleagues?

Regular meetings with the Finnish health authority, social and internal affairs ministries have taken place every week or two weeks. It depends on past agreements. Working group phone calls between officials take place nearly every week. We can say that either the president, prime minister, foreign minister or health minister has called Finland at least weekly. Pressure and bombardment have been daily. The embassy uses its contacts to raise the issue several time a day.

Has the Estonian president phoned her Finnish colleague over of the migration problem?

Yes, the president has contacted her Finnish colleague.

And the answers are always laconically the same?

Yes. In some place, the answer has been awkward silence. The foreign minister has been craftier and able to say that no promises can be made as everything depends on the situation. This begs the conclusion that the time to change tactics is near.

It has been suggested in the press that the Estonian foreign minister has lacked political will to address the problem.

Work has been intensive and the foreign minister has been deeply involved from day one. However, we have not been as diligent regarding public relations and the information aspect. In hindsight, we could have been more vocal regarding our efforts.

The latter seems to have changed already – you have become rather vocal and critical in the media.

Yes, and the reason is that the situation has become more critical in terms of Finland’s inability to facilitate us. As well as the expectations and needs of the public.

Have you turned to the Finnish press so that the Finnish public could get an idea of what is happening?

It is on the agenda for this week, while we have refrained from going to the press so far. That said, the Finnish press is very independent and there is not much we can do in terms of pressuring them into running our story. But I believe the Finnish media should be prepared to cover it by today. I’m sure an explanation from Estonia will be published.

What to think of the fact that the Estonian prime minister has gotten involved through meeting with Ambassador of Finland Timo Kantola?

It was definitely necessary. We weighed the timing, whether to take that step sooner or later. The goal was to make sure the message gets through to the Finnish leadership. That perhaps someone in Finland still thought the problem wasn’t serious enough and could be ignored longer.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said that the travel restrictions come off as persecution of Estonians. Are we being persecuted?

Estonia is not big or important enough for the Finns be prepared to compromise here. It is not persecution of Estonians. It simply hasn’t been deemed important enough.

Have Estonia-Finland relations suffered?

I’m afraid some damage has been done by now. I believe we can get over it, while we still remember what happened on the Polish border. It will stay with us for some time. It is a great shame that our message to Finland has not been taken seriously yet.