Kosovo formally applies to join EU

Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Pristina, Kosovo August 10, 2022. REUTERS/Fedja Grulovic

PRAGUE, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti submitted a bid for Kosovo to join the European Union on Thursday, launching a process that could take years, if not decades, and is dependent on it normalising relations with neighbouring Serbia.

Kurti presented the application in Prague to the Czech Republic, holders of the EU's rotating presidency.

"We want no back door, no fast-track. We want to build the EU in our country with our people," Kurti said after handing the application to Czech European Affairs Minister Mikulas Bek.

Kosovo is the only country in its region until now not to have applied to join the EU.

While there is reluctance within the 27-nation EU for further expansion, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has led them to devote more energy to improving relations with the six Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.

"We firmly believe that a European future is the only way to solve a number of problems in the region, whether economic, social or ethnic," Bek said.

Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with the backing of the West, following a 1998-1999 war in which NATO intervened to protect the territory.

Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations, and five EU states - Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus - have refused to recognise its statehood.

Its independence is recognised by around 110 countries but not by Serbia, Russia or China, among others.

Kosovo still needs to normalise relations with Serbia before it can join the EU. The bloc is working on a deal it hopes both parties will agree to within a year.

EU and U.S. envoys this week called on Kosovo and Serbia to remain calm amid an ongoing ethnic crisis in the north of Kosovo where local Serbs have erected barricades to prevent police movement, part of tensions between authorities and Kosovo's Serb minority.

Reporting by Robert Muller, additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina; Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Hugh Lawson

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