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Kosovo to submit EU candidacy in coming days – POLITICO

Kosovo plans to formally submit an application for EU membership in the coming days – a bid to show European capitals that it is serious about reforms and moving closer to the bloc.

“We are ready to put Kosovo on the new trajectory,” Besnik Bislimi, Kosovo’s first deputy prime minister in charge of European integration, told POLITICO in an interview.

Yet the process of joining the EU is notoriously lengthy, requiring years of regulatory changes, as well as economic and judicial reforms. And the case of Kosovo is particularly heavy for the EU. Five EU members – Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain – still do not recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Bislimi said he knew it would take some time before Kosovo was ready for membership, but he cited 2030 as an initial target.

The EU, he said, “will never be complete without the Western Balkans”.

The country’s candidacy comes at a pivotal time for the EU.

For years, enlargement has stalled, with many countries expressing fatigue after the EU’s retreat into many countries in the center and east of the continent. But Russia’s war in Ukraine has created new momentum to safeguard Brussels’ geopolitical influence, with EU capitals increasingly fearful of losing their neighbors to Moscow.

In recent months, the EU has focused specifically on the Western Balkans, launching the region into a more EU-integrated future – and promising to rekindle semi-dormant membership aspirations.

One of Kosovo’s advantages, Bislimi said, is its young population, which is “the most enthusiastic to join”. The Deputy Prime Minister – an economist and academic by profession – also expressed optimism about his country’s ability to implement economic change quickly.

“In my opinion, the abundance of entrepreneurship that you see in Kosovo would, to some extent, facilitate these economic reforms,” ​​he said.

But he also acknowledged the considerable challenges, including the adoption of European standards on the rule of law.

“In the rule of law, it is not so easy because of a long period of stagnation,” he noted, adding that the “resistance” of the “losers of the new reforms is much stronger in the judicial system than in the economic system”.

Police officers from the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo | Armend Nimani/AFP via Getty Images

As for the controversial issue of recognition, Bislimi maintained that the current non-recognition of the EU will ultimately not constitute an obstacle to Kosovo’s application for membership.

“Given that accession is a longer-term process”, he said, “we believe that by then we will be ready to resolve all the disputes which have prevented these countries from recognizing Kosovo, and then make this question irrelevant.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but the two countries remain in a tense standoff that occasionally erupts. The EU has led a dialogue between the two countries that has produced little progress in recent years.

But the Deputy Prime Minister said there was a way forward after Brussels recently presented an updated proposal.

“We hope to start this important and intensive process of intermediate normalization very soon,” Bislimi said. “We will call it a basic treaty – a treaty that could provide a solution to most disputes between Kosovo and Serbia, but not necessarily mean full normalization.”

Even a partial agreement with Belgrade could help pave the way for Kosovo to move closer to the EU and increase the chances of full normalization eventually, according to the deputy prime minister.

“I think the very idea of ​​having this intermediate step could be enough,” Bislimi said, “to show the parties’ commitment to these skeptical countries – and move them down the road to recognition.”

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