Montenegro has submitted a formal application for European Union membership at a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said in Paris.
Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic is prepared for a long membership bid
Montenegro, a nation of around 650,000 people, took its first concrete step towards EU accession during a meeting with Sarkozy on Monday, Dec. 15.
"We are aware that we are now facing a phase that will be difficult, but we are ready to work with our partners and deal with all the challenges that we will encounter," Djukanovic said.
"By taking this step, Montenegro commits itself to the accession process and the building of a united Europe which is a strategic goal in which the founders of the European Community invested their vision and commitment," the government press office said earlier in a statement.
The move by Podgorica is expected to add impetus to EU membership bids by other Balkan states such as Albania and Serbia.
Montenegro recently split from Serbia
Djukanovic also met in Paris with EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, who had gone on record last week saying that Montenegro still had a lot of ground to cover before it could join the EU.
"It is now up to the council (of Europe) and the presidency to decide the course to take. I can tell you that the commission is ready to prepare an opinion on the candidacy of Montenegro," Rehn had said when the Montenegrin government first announced its intentions last Thursday.
A former Yugoslav republic, Montenegro has posted an average growth of eight percent since 2006, when it ended its union with Serbia.
Montenegro already uses the euro, but is not a formal member of the euro zone. It signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU in October 2007.
Around 43 percent of people in the Adriatic nation consider themselves as ethnic Montenegrin, with Serbs making up 25-30 percent of the population and Bosnians 7.7 percent.
Some 74 percent of Montenegrins say they belong to the Orthodox Church, with Islam as the second largest religion at 18 percent.
The European Commission is also said to be preparing itself for an EU bid from Iceland. The commission is "mentally prepared" for a membership proposal from Iceland early in 2009, and negotiations could be swift because the island state already has such close ties with Europe, Rehn said last week.