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09/12/2016

Serbia, Kosovo settle local election dispute

Enlargement

Serbia, Kosovo settle local election dispute

EULEX Kosovo.jpg

A deal struck this week between the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo allowed the two Eastern European countries to overcome a bilateral deadlock, which was triggered after Pristina prohibited Serbian officials from visiting Kosovo during the forthcoming local elections. EurActiv Serbia reports.

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Da?i? announced that an agreement had been reached to allow all Serbian officials to travel to Kosovo – before and during the local elections that will be held on 3 November (see background).

Da?i? made the announced on Monday evening (7 October) in Brussels, after a meeting with the EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton, and Hashim Thaci, the prime minister of Kosovo.

Da?i? said the border-crossing procedure for Serbian officials travelling to Kosovo will not change. This means the requests for visits will be sent to the EU's judicial and police mission in Kosovo, EULex, which will decide on the visits, explained the Serbain minister in charge of Kosovo affairs, Aleksandar Vulin.

Kosovo Premier Hashim Thaci said after the Brussels meeting that freedom of movement will be honored “without discrimination.”

Thaci told reporters that the Kosovo authorities will respond to each request by Serbian officials to visit Kosovo, if submitted to the relevant institutions and in keeping with the law.

But later, at an election rally in Glogovac on Tuesday, Thaci said that the Kosovo government would not allow visits deemed electoral in nature.

The German ambassador to Kosovo, Peter Blomeyer, said that politicians from Serbia should come to Kosovo and support the citizens in voting at the local elections, but should restrain from participating in the campaign, the Kosovo media reported yesterday (8 October).

“In principle, I believe it is good that Serbian politicians come to Kosovo to support the Serb citizens in voting at the elections. Still, they should restrain from participating in the election campaign”, the German ambassador said, as quoted by the Koha Ditore daily.

The Tribuna daily reported that it was also agreed in Brussels that, during their visits to Kosovo, Serbian officials would primarily call on the citizens to vote at the elections, but not give support to a particular party.

According to European diplomatic sources, Ashton invited Da?i? and Thaci to Brussels in order to resolve the situation in connection with the ban on the visits of Serbian officials to Kosovo during the election campaign, and to prevent delays in the preparation of elections and secure as high a turnout as possible of the Kosovo Serbs.

An offense to Belgrade

Pristina had previously rejected, on 2 October, the Serbian prime minister’s request to visit Kosovo, citing a possible interference from Belgrade with the local election.

Da?i? intended to visit the majority-Serb municipality of Strpce on 4 October, one day after the official start of the campaign for the Kosovo local elections. It would have been the second time that a Serbian prime minister visits Kosovo since the war in 1999.

After the Kosovo authorities’ ban, Da?i? warned Brussels that he will no longer participate in the negotiations if Pristina does not allow Serbian officials to visit Kosovo until the end of the election campaign.

“If I, as a signatory of the Brussels agreement, and representatives of the government who supported it and worked on its implementation, cannot go to Kosovo and call on the Serbs to vote at the local elections, then the question arises about the purpose of my further participation in the dialogue,” Da?i? then pointed out.

Da?i? estimated that this move of Pristina also undermined the credibility of Brussels, which is hosting the dialogue between the two sides.

Voters’ list issue

Another open issue that the two prime ministers discussed in Brussels is the difference between the voters’ lists of Belgrade and Pristina.

Da?i? said that, so far, the Central Electoral Commission in Kosovo had allowed for only 17% of potential voters from among the refugees and the displaced to participate in the elections, which he described as extremely few.

Out of almost 39,000 applications, the Central Electoral Commission of Kosovo has accepted more than 6,000 requests from Serbs who want to register as voters for the local elections.

In Brussels, Da?i? said that an agreement was also reached for another 12,000 Kosovo Serbs to be registered as voters in the four northern municipalities of Kosovo. In return, a much greater number of displaced people and refugees from Kosovo who currently live in Serbia will be considered for registration, on the basis of new documents, he said.

And even more Serbs should be able to claim their right to vote in Kosovo as a result of additional documents and complaints filed with the Serbian Commissioner for Refugees, Da?i? said.

The Serbian Prime Minister said he hoped all arrangements agreed in Brussels on Monday evening will be implemented by the end of this week.

The normalisation of relations with Pristina – mainly, the implementation of the Brussels agreement of19 April – is one of the conditions for Serbia’s progress towards EU accession. This issue will be covered in a separate chapter of the pre-accession negotiations with the EU.

The chief of the Serbian EU pre-accession negotiation team, Tanja Miš?evi?, said it was normal that problems come up from time to time during the implementation of the Brussels agreement.

She told the Serbian Broadcasting Corporation (RTS) that she cannot predict how long the process would take, but that the normalisation of relations with Pristina was a precondition for Serbia’s eventual admission into the EU.

Background

Local elections will be held in Kosovo on 3 November.

The election will also designate the officials and bodies of the Association of Serb Municipalities, the forming of which is envisaged in the agreement which the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo reached on April 19, 2013 in Brussels, with EU mediation.

There are 103 political subjects participating in the elections, of which 50 from the Albanian community and 31 from the Serb, and the rest from other minority communities. Among the Serb candidates participating in the elections, the Serbian government supports the “Srpska” civil initiative. [A political subject is a political party, initiative or association.]

There are 224 candidates competing for the jobs of municipal mayors in Kosovo, and 7,740 candidates for seats in municipal assemblies.

According to Serbia’s Migration Profile, in 2011 there were around 209,800 displaced persons from Kosovo living in Serbia, who mostly arrived after the NATO intervention and the bombing of the FR Yugoslavia in 1999.

Timeline

  • 9 Oct. Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Da?i? and Serbian Minister for Kosovo Aleksandar Vulin are expected to visit Kosovo.
  • 16 Oct: EU Commission to publish progress reports on all countries on their way to EU accession, including Serbia and Kosovo.