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EU, US diverge over outcome of north Kosovo electoral referendum

The European Commission and United States have offered diverging views on the outcome of Sunday’s referendum to replace ethnic Albanian mayors in four Serb-majority municipalities in north Kosovo with the US accepting the mayors will stay in place, and the EU refusing to comment but saying the vote is not enough to reduce tensions.

On Sunday, a referendum was held in Leposavic, Zubin Potok, Svecan, and North Mitrovica to decide whether ethnic Albanian mayors, elected with 3.4% of the vote in local elections boycotted by Serbs last year, should be removed. Around 1% of eligible voters turned out, while at least 50% plus one vote was needed to remove the mayors.

Euractiv asked the European Commission if they accept the result of the referendum and the incumbent mayors remaining in place, but the question was not answered.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued on Sunday, the US was clear that ““there is no decision by the voters to recall the mayors. The current mayors of the municipalities have been elected and remain in their positions according to the legal framework of Kosovo.”

This divergence in views is a chink in an until now, united approach on the need to call elections in the northern Serb-majority municipalities.

Does not diffuse tensions

When asked whether holding elections would be considered Kosovo fulfilling conditions for removing punitive measures, external affairs spokesperson Peter Stano said, “On the measures, in line with its Conclusions of 12 December 2023, the Council will discuss the EU measures based on a report by the High Representative on the fulfilment of the EU requests.”

The EU placed several punitive measures on Kosovo in the summer of 2023 following escalations of tensions in the north, conditional on de-escalation and meeting requests that include holding new elections.

“We hoped for another outcome, but Kosovo has met its obligations,” Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Sunday, while Elbert Krasniqi, the local government minister, called on the EU to lift measures imposed on Kosovo following the escalation of tensions last summer.  

But this does not appear to be on the cards as while regretting that Kosovo Serbs in the north missed the opportunity to vote and elect mayors that would be truly representative, Stano said, “The outcome does not contribute to defusing tensions and paving the way for the return of Serbs to Kosovo institutions, which is essential for normalisation of relations.”

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Pristina told Gazeta Express that the vote was held in accordance with Kosovo’s legal requirements and line with the legal framework and CEC.

Source: Euractiv