A dispute between two countries is affecting Europe’s power grid and is causing clocks across the continent—including those built into home appliances like microwaves, ovens and coffee makers—to run up to six minutes slow.

The issue stems from an arrangement between Kosovo and Serbia regarding who is responsible to pay for electricity. The countries are currently in dispute over the agreement—an issue that can be traced back to Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008.

Clock A dispute between Kosovo and Serbia is making clocks run slow in Europe. Photo: Wilhei/Pixabay

After Kosovo broke off to form its own nation, there were negotiations between the new country and its previous home over utilities like telecommunications and electricity infrastructure that spanned across land occupied by both countries.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state, and has failed to pay for electricity used by four Serb-majority districts located in Northern Kosovo. To compensate for those districts, Kosovo charged the rest of the country more for electricity.

That arrangement came to an end last December when Kosovo decided to stop paying as well. As a result, the Serb-majority districts of Kosovo continued consuming electricity but had no one paying for that usage, creating an imbalance in the electrical grid.

Kosovo and Serbia are part of a grid overseen by the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E). The agency manages a massive electricity grid that connects 25 European countries, providing half of the continent with power.

The ENTSO-E grid relies heavily on a system of supply and demand; the amount of electricity sent through the grid from power stations should match up equally to the amount of electricity being taken off the grid by consumers including homes, businesses and organizations.

The dispute between Serbia and Kosovo has thrown off the sensitive balance that allows the grid to operate, and has in turn started to cause problems with clocks in many of the countries connected to the ENTSO-E grid.

Clocks built into household appliances rely on the frequency of electricity to keep time. They track the flow of electricity as moves in an alternating current. In Europe, the electricity alternates direction 50 times per second, resulting in a frequency of 50 Hertz.

Because of Serbia and Kosovo’s dispute over who is to pay for electricity, the frequency of electricity provided by the grid has changed—a result of more electricity being consumed than is being provided from power stations. That change in frequency has resulted in some clocks losing track of time and falling behind.

The issue appears to have at least a temporary solution. Earlier this week, Kosovo’s government agreed to pay a fee of one million Euros for electricity used by the Serbian-majority districts in order to get the power grid functioning properly again. “It is a temporary decision but as such saves our network functionality,” Kosovo’s prime minister Ramush Haradinaj said in a statement .

A long-term fix is still in the works to prevent such an issue from occurring again.