Kosovo’s president announces application for EU membership by year-end

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President Vjosa Osmani announced on Tuesday that her country would submit an application for membership of the European Union by the end of the year, pledging commitment to Brussels-sponsored talks with Serbia to resolve outstanding differences.

“I will be announcing today here in front of all EU leaders: Kosovo will be submitting its application for EU membership by the end of this year,” Ms Osmani said upon arrival at an EU-Western Balkans summit in Tirana.

Five Western Balkan states - Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia - are at different stages of an EU entry process. But Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, has yet to apply.

A EU-mediating talks

Belgrade and Pristina committed in 2013 to an EU-sponsored dialogue to resolve outstanding issues, but little progress has been made. Agreement with Kosovo remains one of the main pre-conditions for Serbia to join the EU.

“We believe that the dialogue that is led by the European Union and fully supported by the United States of America is the only way forward towards reaching a final agreement that is centred on mutual recognition,” the president said.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić also expressed commitment to an EU-sponsored dialogue with Kosovo.

“But at the same time we have to protect our interest according to the constitution,” he pointed out as Serbia’s constitution considers Kosovo an integral part of the country’s territory.

Serbia lost control of Kosovo in 1999 after 11 weeks of NATO air strikes to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians in a Serbian counter-insurgency.

The EU-Western Balkan summit

European Union and Western Balkans leaders met in the Albanian capital Tirana on Tuesday for a summit meant to reassure the region of a future in the wealthy bloc amid fears of rising Russian and Chinese influence.

The region’s leaders have long expressed disillusion that negotiations have not started or are stalled, years after being promised eventual EU membership.

While reluctance over further enlarging the EU is rife among member states, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed them to focus more energy on bringing the region closer to the bloc. “I am absolutely convinced that the future of our children will be safer and more prosperous with the Western Balkans within the EU and we are working very hard to make progress,” EU Council chief Charles Michel said at the start of the meeting.

In a concrete step towards integration, telecommunications operators from the EU and the Western Balkans leaders signed a deal at the start of the summit on a cut in data roaming charges from October 2023.