The government in Belgrade approved a compromise agreement with Kosovo on Monday, paving the way for a parliamentary vote that is likely to pass, owing to support from all sides of the ruling coalition. Approval was unanimous within the Cabinet, according to Serb government spokesman Milivoje Mihajlovic.
The agreement between Serbia and Kosovo was reached after 10 rounds of talks brokered by the European Union. Reaching an agreement seeking a normalization of ties with Kosovo was a key EU condition for Serbia to open accession talks with a view to joining the bloc.
Kosovo's parliament endorsed the deal late on Sunday by 89 votes to seven.
EU Expansion Commissioner Stefan Füle on Monday advocated moving both sides' efforts to join the EU forward.
"The [European] Commission considers that Serbia has met the key priority of taking steps towards a visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo," Füle wrote in a document that he shared on Twitter. "The Commission therefore recommends that negotiations for accession to the European Union should be opened with Serbia.
In Kosovo's case, Füle said that Pristina had met all its "short-term priorities," saying member states should therefore authorize "the opening of negotiations on a stabilization and association agreement," a step that precedes any eventual accession talks.
Implementation still problematic
Some opposition groups in both countries have opposed the agreement, however, saying their respective governments conceded too much. Serb Prime Minister Ivica Dadic and his deputy Aleksandar Vucic said over the weekend that they had received death threats after inking the deal.
One key agreement was that both sides agreed not to block each other's efforts to join the EU.
The Serb government has also said that the deal seeking improved ties does not amount to recognition of Kosovo.
Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008. The former province has since been recognized as independent by more than 90 countries, including 22 of 27 EU members and the US, but not by Serbia. Other notable nations that do not consider Kosovo a country are Russia, China, Israel and the EU members Spain, Greece and Cyprus.
A major sticking point in the talks was a small territory in northern Kosovo with an overwhelming ethnic Serb population that does not recognize the government in Pristina. Unlike the area around the city of Mitrovica, the rest of Kosovo has a largely ethnic-Albanian population.
The agreement reached would allow Serbs to broadly police and manage the north of Kosovo, in exchange for them at least nominally recognizing the authority and laws of the government in Pristina. The population in northern Kosovo has since said it's not happy with these terms, and had planned protests against the deal for Monday.
msh/mkg (AFP, AP, dpa)