Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti said he expects the country to become an EU member in nine years following the filing of the application for membership this week, while calls for Serbs to dismantle barricades in the north intensify from the international community.

In a press conference with Czech Foreign Minister Mikulash Bek, Kurti said he is optimistic although he knows the long road ahead.

“The EU is the destination we aim for and the destiny we embrace. The EU represents the hard work we want to enjoy. From the moment when the application is submitted to the acceptance, different deadlines are needed for different countries. Sweden and Finland 3 years, Malta 14 years, an average of 9 years. It is realistic for Kosovo to wait this average time,” he said.

On Wednesday, Kosovo also progressed to the next stage of the visa liberalisation process as representatives of the European Parliament, Commission and Council reached an agreement with implementation no later than 1 January 2024.

The new rules would allow Kosovo passport holders to travel to the EU without a visa for a period of stay of 90 days in any 180 days. Kosovo was assessed as having met the criteria for liberalisation in 2018 but faced a number of delays and obstacles from other member states.

Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi welcomed the news and said that joint work in the fight against organised crime brought positive results.

“I welcome the agreement on the visa liberalisation agreement for Kosovo. Our joint work to fight organised crime brought tangible results on the ground. The EU stands by the people in the Western Balkans,” said Varhelyi.

Serbian President Aleksander Vucic said that the application violated the Washington Agreement and said many countries were poised to withdraw their recognition of Kosovo.

The Washington Agreement provided a one-year moratorium whereby Kosovo said it would not apply for membership in any international institutions while Serbia would stop campaigning against its recognition. The non-binding document was signed in September 2020 and was valid for a period of 12 months, but the US encouraged both sides to continue it on the one-year anniversary of its signing.

Meanwhile, tensions between Kosovo and neighbouring Serbia continue to simmer as ethnic Serbs have blocked key roads to the border and attacks have been reported on EULEX, police, journalists and electoral commission premises.

EU Chief Diplomat Josep Borrell said he informed the 27 leaders of member states about the situation in the Western Balkans during Thursday’s summit.

“You know that in recent days we have faced big problems in the north of Kosovo. I have sent the [EU’s special envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue] Miroslav Lajčak to the region, to Pristina and Belgrade, immediately after the meeting of the EU foreign ministers. I will report to the leaders about the situation and ask for the reduction of tensions and return to dialogue, which is the only way to ensure a European perspective for Kosovo and Serbia,” said Borrell.

On 13 and 14 December, Lajcak stayed in Kosovo and Serbia, together with the US envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar. They met with leaders from both sides and requested the removal of the barricades.

“It is absolutely necessary that these problems stop. The barricades must be removed, calm returned, discussions returned. Discussions about the proposal we have put on the table to find a permanent solution to the tensions between Pristina and Belgrade,” said Borrell.

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly has also requested the immediate removal of the blockades in the north of Kosovo. Vice President of the Assembly Joelle Garriad Maylam said attacks by armed individuals are unacceptable.

“I am deeply concerned about recent developments in the north of Kosovo. Repeated threats and acts of intimidation and violence by armed individuals, including this weekend’s attack on a reconnaissance patrol of the European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX Kosovo), are unacceptable. Those responsible must be held accountable. The barricades erected in the north of Kosovo must be removed immediately,” she said.

Meanwhile, Kurti said he is waiting for KFOR, the international NATO-led peacekeeping force, to remove the barricades.

“It would be best if they were removed by those who placed them, as those who placed those barricades also placed themselves in the barricades, even with weapons. These are not civilian barricades, and, on the other hand, we have given the time requested by KFOR for them to remove these barricades, and our Minister of Internal Affairs is waiting”, declared Kurti for ATV.

He stated that the barricades in the north of Kosovo could not remain there, not only because they violate the law and free movement but because Serbs themselves are suffering the consequences.