France's foreign minister has announced that the European Union is set to grant Serbia EU candidate status. An agreement between Belgrade and Pristina last week had removed a major hurdle.
Serbia appears to be set to move a step closer to its goal of joining the European Union.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told reporters in Brussels on Monday that EU countries would announce on Tuesday that they were granting Serbia EU candidate status. This is a crucial step for any country seeking to join the 27-member bloc.
"It's done, the conditions have been met," Juppe said after a meeting of EU foreign ministers. "It's an encouragement to Serbia to continue on its path towards the EU," Juppe added.
The formal decision is expected to come at a meeting of European affairs ministers on Tuesday, with the final approval to be left up to EU leaders, when they hold summit talks on Thursday and Friday.
At least one diplomat, though, cast doubt on whether approval actually is as sure a thing, as claimed by the French minister, telling the AFP news agency that while "most outstanding issues are solved, we do not yet have an agreement."
Romania is demanding guarantees regarding Serbia's Romanian minority, while Lithuania is concerned about Belgrade's close relations with Moscow, the diplomat said. Further talks aimed at overcoming their objections were planned for Monday evening.
Key deal reached
However the stumbling block that prevented Serbia from being granted candidate status last December has been removed, after a breakthrough agreement reached on Friday between Belgrade and Pristina.
The two sides agreed that the former Serbian province would be described as Kosovo* at regional meetings and organizations. The asterisk would refer to a footnote about an international court ruling on its disputed status. Belgrade does not recognize Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
Steps have also taken steps to ease tensions along Kosovo's northern border with Serbia, where violence flared last year after Pristina sent police to take control of border posts in the mainly Serb region. Friday's deal includes an agreement meant to improve how the two sides manage joint border controls.
pfd/ncy (Reuters, dpa)