European Union's executive body, on Monday urged the Union's foreign ministers to give a firm date to Serbia for the start of its long-awaited membership negotiations after Belgrade struck a deal last week to normalise ties with Kosovo in a major step that bolstered both countries' EU aspirations. "The Commission considers that Serbia has met the key priority of taking steps towards a visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo," the European Commission said in a joint report on the Serbia-Kosovo talks. "The European Commission therefore recommends that negotiations for accession to the Union should be opened."
The European Commission also recommended that Kosovo be included in EU's partnership programs which other Balkan nations already enjoy.
Pristina has yet to win recognition from EU members Greece, the Greek Cypriot administration, Spain, Romania and Slovakia.
EU foreign ministers gathers on Monday in Luxembourg and they are expected to set a date for the start of Belgrade's negotiations and greenlight talks to sign an association and partnership agreement with Kosovo.
Last week's deal represents a sharp reversal of official Serbian policy, as the coalition government seeks the economic boost of closer EU ties. The Serbian government endorsed the plan on Monday morning, following Kosovo's parliament late on Sunday.
Serbs considers Kosovo the cradle of their nation and Orthodox Christian faith, but Belgrade lost control over the territory in 1999, when NATO carried out 11 weeks of air strikes to halt the killing and expulsion of Albanian civilians by Serbian forces waging a counter-insurgency campaign.
Kosovo has been recognised by more than 90 countries, including the United States and 22 of the EU's 27 members.
Serbia says it will never recognise Kosovo as sovereign, but last week agreed to cede its fragile control over the north Kosovo Serbs to the Kosovo authorities in Pristina, in exchange for limited autonomous powers. Serbia also pledged not to obstruct Kosovo's path to eventual EU membership.
"This is an historic agreement," said Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans. "It is another step towards lasting peace in the Balkans. I am very positive about this step," said.
Serbia is unlikely to join the EU before 2020.
Of its fellow ex-Yugoslav republics, Slovenia joined in 2004, Croatia follows on July 1 and tiny Montenegro began membership talks last year. Macedonia is a candidate, Bosnia has yet to apply and Kosovo is just starting out with a pre-accession Stabilisation and Association Agreement.