LUXEMBOURG European Union ministers agreed on Tuesday to start negotiations on membership with Serbia by January as a reward for improving relations with its former province Kosovo.
Ministers also agreed the EU should start talks with Kosovo on a so-called association agreement, a step on the path to eventual EU membership that can carry economic benefits.
The decisions, which must be ratified by EU leaders at a summit in Brussels later this week, come two months after Serbia struck an historic agreement to settle its relations with Kosovo in return for a promise of talks on joining the European Union.
"There is preliminary agreement to start accession talks with Serbia," one EU diplomat said. "The date could still be changed at the summit."
The EU negotiation process would help drive reforms in Serbia, the largest country to emerge from the former Yugoslavia, luring investors to its ailing economy.
In the past years, Serbia has made great strides towards EU integration, following progress in democratic reforms and the capture of fugitives wanted for crimes during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.