Serb PM hails 'historic' EU membership talks

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The opening of membership talks between the EU and Serbia is "the most momentous event for Serbia since the end of WW2" according to the country's prime ministers.

Speaking at the opening of talks - officially known as 'accession' talks - in Brussels on 21 January 2014, Ivica Dacic said the move towards EU membership "defines the society that Serbia wants to have".

At the European Council summit in December, EU leaders agreed to open membership talks with Serbia, following a positive recommendation by the European Commission and the European Parliament.

The European Commission originally recommended Serbia for EU candidate status in October 2011, but this was conditional on Belgrade normalising relations with the breakaway republic of Kosovo, which declared independence - not recognised by Serbia - in 2008.

The deadlock over the issue was broken in April 2013 with the signing of an EU-backed agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.

Mr Dacic - the president of the Serbian Socialist Party - has been prime minister since 2012.

He said the deal with Kosovo was a sign that Serbia is "going to build European values".

The normalisation agreement gives a high degree of autonomy to the Serb-majority areas in northern Kosovo, but Belgrade insists it does not mean it has recognised its former province's independence.

Greece's Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos said the opening of membership talks marked "the opening of a new historic chapter for the Serbian nation".

Greece - which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU - has historically been a close ally of Serbia, and Mr Venizelos said the talks were "testimony to Serbia's European course".

The EU's Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle, who oversees talks with candidate countries, warned that "hard work" will be needed and that the Serb government would have to remain committed to the normalisation of relations with Kosovo.

Serbia has now joined Macedonia, Montenegro and Turkey has formal candidate countries.

Iceland is also officially a candidate country, although the country's new government has put accession talks on hold.

Meanwhile Albania has submitted its application and a decision on granting candidate status will be made at the June European Council summit.

Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are recognised as potential candidates although an application for membership is expected to be some years away.

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