Mart Helme, Estonian Interior Minister and Chairman of the Conservative Party, an anti-immigration group, has recently asked to look into the feasibility of lifting visa-free entry for travelers who hold Ukrainian passports.
Minister Mart Helme plans to propose a legislative measure to the parliament to make his proposed initiatives materialize. He describes the visa liberalization granted to Ukrainians as a ‘Trojan horse’
“The Trojan horse, in particular for Russia, because those who come here are not so much Ukrainians as Russians from eastern Ukraine, Russified Ukrainians. This migration pressure from the east is very strong on us and it continues to increase,” Minister Helme stated to Estonian reporters.
The visa-free travel to the Schengen territory that Ukrainians enjoy can be suspended through the Emergency Brake, a suspension mechanism for Schengen visa, as provided for in EC Regulation 1289/2013. Minister Helme, will however need the Parliament’s support as well as its government, which has to ask the European Commission to allow the initiation of the mechanism.
At this point, some Estonian government officials and MPs have expressed objections to Helme’s idea. According to Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu, abolishing the visa-free entry was not possible nor in Estonia’s best interest.
“Apart from Ukraine’s fulfillment of objective conditions, this decision was clearly a political move by the European Union and its withdrawal is in no way in line with our interest in supporting Ukraine’s integration into the European Union,” Minister Reinsalu asserted.
Marko Mihkelson, an Estonian Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee assailed Minister Helme’s plans arguing that Estonia has more to gain than lose from the current visa-free system.
“Even Russian president Vladimir Putin has not called Ukraine a Trojan horse for Europe. Now a member of the Estonian government is doing it… Ukraine is not a problem country regarding illegal immigration. Let us not forget, Ukraine is fighting also for us when it fights to stop the Russian aggression,” according to MP Mihkelson. Estonia’s population of 1.3 million continues to decline as thousands of its skilled workforce leaves the country to work in other Western EU member states like Germany and France from the time it became a member of the European block. In recent years, Ukrainian laborers have moved to Estonia for work purposes, particularly in the construction industry.