EU envoy urges Kosovo and Serbia to step up normalization efforts before the bloc's June elections

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The EU envoy for the Western Balkans on Tuesday urged Kosovo and Serbia to push ahead with faltering normalization talks before elections for the European Parliament in June.

Miroslav Lajcak met for three hours with Kosovo’s top leaders — President Vjosa Osmani, Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislimi — in the capital Pristina after visiting Belgrade a day earlier.

“We don’t even have to ask ourselves how to do it (the agreement). The question is when to do it. And, of course, if you ask me, I would say without delay, as soon as possible,” Lajcak told journalists.

The EU and the United States are pressing both countries to implement agreements that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kurti reached in February and March.

The 27 member states of the European Union will hold EU parliamentary elections in June, while the United States goes to the polls in November, Lajcak pointed out, adding: “That means the attention, of course, later this year will be focused on these processes.”

The EU-facilitated normalization talks have failed to make progress, especially following a shootout last September between masked Serb gunmen and Kosovo police that left four people dead and ratcheted up tensions in the region.

Both Serbia and Kosovo have said they want to join the EU, but EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said their refusal to compromise is jeopardizing their chances for membership.

Lajcak mentioned as positive signs for both countries applying a deal on the payment of the energy consumed in Kosovo’s north, where most of the ethnic Serb minority lives, and recognizing each-others car number plates.

Serbian forces fought a 1998-99 war with ethnic Albanian separatists in what was then the province of Kosovo. About 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, died. Kosovo eventually declared independence in 2008, but the government in Belgrade does not recognize its neighbor as a separate country.