On a visit to Tallinn last week, Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen affirmed an earlier statement by his country's interior minister that drug smuggling into Finland from Estonia is a source of problems for the northern neighbor. The sword in Estonian officials' hearts was when the interior minister said the long sought after EU membership was at stake.
"Membership of the European Union cannot be granted to a country whose police are corrupted, for example, or whose police are unable to do anything at all about a steady flow of drugs into Finland from or through Estonia," Finnish Interior Minister Kari Hakamies told STT news agency.
Estonian Prime Minster Mart Laar didn't find the threat of losing the EU membership as very severe, as it is only one opinion, said Priit Poiklik, Laar's press officer. Still, in its October report on Estonia's progress toward membership, the European Commission did mention inefficiency of the police and corruption in the department as two main problem areas in domestic affairs.
However, the EC also said that border control reform efforts "have resulted in achieving standards close to those of EU member states."
By Finnish statistics, Estonia is a big supplier of drugs to Finland. In fact, it is the biggest supplier. In Finland last year, police apprehended 214 people suspected of drug-related crimes. Of them, 81 came from Estonia, 68 from Russia, 16 from Finland, 12 from both Vietnam and Sweden, nine from Britain and eight from both the Netherlands and Spain.
"Estonia has become for Finland the largest drug supplying country and it beats all other sources," Jan Bergstrom, Finnish central criminal police superintendent, said.
Estonian police, however, see the problem in simple economic terms: where there is a demand, there will be a supply.
"Finnish leaders will have to open their eyes and realize that the problem lies, not only in the inflow of drugs, but rather in a steadily growing body of consumers," Kalev Motus, Tallinn drug squad superintendent, told the Estonian dailyPostimees.
Estonian police blame much of the drug trade between the countries on Finnish masterminds living in Tallinn.
Last year, for example, Erik Hemming Eklund, a Finn, was arrested in Tallinn on drug smuggling charges. According to local papers, Eklund lived in Tallinn for nearly a year organizing the smuggling of about 200 kilograms of drugs into Finland.
Despite turning the tables on the Finnish authorities, Motus said the interior minister's harsh words were good because they raised the Estonian society's awareness of the drug problems between the two countries.
The notion of corruption in the police department, however, is of far more consequence than verbal exchanges over which country is more responsible for the drug trade.
Mayor of Tallinn Juri Mois has said that there is corruption in the Estonian police and cleaning up the force was one reason for slimming down the department, which he initiated in September while he served as the Minister of Internal Affairs.
Further administrative reform should also result in better training of police officers, the Interior Ministry said.
The conclusion drawn by the prime ministers was that something must be done to curb the drug trade from and through Estonia to Finland, and cooperation between both nations' police forces is imperative to the success of the collaborated efforts.
"We discussed this problem and that's a big step forward," Lipponen said at a news conference in Tallinn on Jan. 28.
Laar said that the two countries will form a joint task force to combat organized crime. Laar has also requested Estonia's government ministries to propose solutions to combat drug smuggling.
"There's a great many things here in Estonia that need to be improved, but it's clear that the closer the cooperation between police forces, the more efficient it is," he said to reporters. "The problem does exist, there's no denying that."