Saturday

27th May 2017

Montenegro swings towards independence

The Balkan republic of Montenegro is set to become Europe's newest state with initial results showing it voted ‘yes' to independence on Sunday, which could dissolve its union with neighbouring Serbia.

On Monday morning (22 May) unofficial results show that 55.3 percent voted in favour and 44.6 voted against secession from Serbia.

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55.3 percent is just above the threshold for secession to be legitimate according to EU-imposed standards.

88 percent of Montenegrins turned out to vote at the around 1100 ballot stations, the highest turnout since the country's first democratic elections in the 1990s.

Prime minister Milo Djukanovic claimed early on Monday that his aim for independence of the small Adriatic republic had been successful.

"Today, the Montenegrin citizens voted to restore their statehood," said the prime minister after the vote, according to Associated Press.

Mr Djukanovic added that he was confident of winning "a clear majority that will lead Montenegro to its independence."

In the capital, Podgorica, crowds of independence supporters swarmed the city centre, sounding car horns and waving red Montenegrin flags in a victory celebration ahead of any official poll results.

But the opposition leader and head of the "no" campaign, Predrag Bulatovic, said his camp would not declare defeat because of an "arbitrary estimate by a monitoring group."

"The results are not final until they are confirmed by the state referendum commission," he said urging the government to ask its supporters to leave the streets, according to BBC News.

The pro-union camp says Montenegro with its 650,000 inhabitants is too small to survive alone without the jobs, education and healthcare its larger neighbour has to offer.

Mr Djukanovic, on the other hand, has argued that an independent Montenegro will have a stronger economy and will be a better candidate for admission into the EU.

EU threshold

The 55 percent threshold, set by the EU, has been questioned by some, however,

"We should not forget that the EU community is of sovereign states. That also means that the EU should not engage in a nation's internal business. It is therefore completely dissatisfactory that the EU has involved itself in Montenegro's referendum for independence," said Danish Liberal MEP Karin Riis-Jorgensen.

The MEP also said the EU would have a "big moral problem" if 54 percent of Montenegrins voted for independence.

Montenegro originally wanted to decide the referendum by a simple majority but Brussels had it changed so that a 55 percent qualified majority is needed.

A quick road to EU membership

The EU has accepted that if Montenegro votes for independence, the current joint state of Serbia-Montenegro can pursue EU membership separately.

Montenegro's loose union with Serbia was established in 2003, replacing what was left of the former Yugoslavia.

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