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Kosovo signs landmark association deal with EU

Kosovo and the European Union have signed a stabilization and association agreement. The historic deal will boost the economic growth of one of Europe's poorest countries and opens the way to the country's EU membership.

EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini and Kosovo's Prime Minister Isa Mustafa signed the long-awaited agreement at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

On Monday, Kosovo's European Integration Minister Bekim Collaku described the agreement as "a new milestone because it established contractual relations between the Republic of Kosovo and the EU."

"We want to become a member of the European family not only in terms of economic integration but also to share the EU values," Collaku told The Associated Press news agency.

According to PM Mustafa, the landmark deal is the "start of a long road … supported and embraced by our citizens and friends."

Kosovo is the last southeastern European country to have signed the EU Association Agreement. The deal would

pave the way for the country's EU membership.

Economic dependence on the EU

Kosovo, which is one of the poorest countries on the continent, already depends hugely on EU aid. According to Thomas Gnocchi, an official at the EU office in Pristina, the 28-member bloc had pledged some $1.4 billion (1.3 billion euros) in development aid to Kosovo for 2007-2020.

Gnocchi added that the stabilization and association agreement with the EU would encourage more foreign investors to do business in Kosovo.

The deal is likely to increase competition, with local companies getting better opportunities to export their products to EU countries without paying custom tariffs.

Kosovo gained independence from Serbia in 2008. More than 100 countries in the world recognize it as a sovereign state. Five EU member states that haven't recognized Kosovo also approved the deal.

Collaku thanked the entire bloc for acknowledging that "the only way to strengthen peace, stability and cooperation in the western Balkans is by opening the doors to the remaining western Balkans to join the EU."

shs/jil (AP, AFP)

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