The Prime Minister of Kosovo on Thursday officially submitted his country’s application for candidate status for membership of the European Union, a first step on what appears to be a very long road to full membership.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti handed the application to the Czech Europe Minister Mikulas Bek, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Council Presidency.
“The European Union is a goal we aspire to and that is the destiny we accept,” said Kurti in Prague.
For Kosovo, the latest Western Balkan country to apply to join the 27-strong bloc, an EU seat is a distant goal.
It is embroiled in a long-running row with another EU hopeful, neighboring Serbia, which has already urged the bloc to abandon the accession process. Full membership for both countries is unlikely to materialize unless their differences are settled.
Five EU countries – Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Cyprus – have not recognized Kosovo as a nation at all, for reasons which in some of the five cases include fears that recognition might encourage separatist aspirations in their own countries.
Kosovo is a primarily ethnic Albanian territory that declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. The Serbian government has refused to recognize Kosovo’s statehood and still considers it part of Serbia, although it has no formal control there.
Kosovo was part of Serbia until a bloody Serb crackdown on an armed insurgency by ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999 sparked a NATO bombing campaign that coerced the Serbs. Serbia’s military and police killed more than 10,000 ethnic Albanians and about a million were forced to flee, mostly to neighboring Albania and North Macedonia.
Serbia reacted angrily to Kosovo’s EU bid, saying it would ask the five EU countries that have not recognized Kosovo and Hungary to block the initiative in Brussels.
“I don’t know what criteria are used to decide whether (a territory) is a state or not,” said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday about Kosovo’s EU application. “We will have to fight as hard as we can to protect our state and national interests.”
Kosovo and Serbia are among the six Western Balkan countries aspiring to EU membership, along with Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro and North Macedonia.
EU enlargement has stalled in recent years. Most recently, in 2013, the bloc accepted a new member – Croatia, which also belongs to the Balkans.
Since Russia attacked Ukraine in late February, EU officials have reiterated that stepping up the bloc’s engagement with the six nations is more important than ever to maintaining Europe’s security.
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