Kosovo welcomes EU support for talks as 'milestone'

Kosovo greeted news that the European Union was prepared to open its door to the small Balkan country, along with Serbia, as a "milestone" on Wednesday.

"Yesterday's recommendation... marks an important milestone for Kosovo and the region," Kosovo's foreign minister Enver Hoxhaj told journalists during a visit to Ljubljana.

On Tuesday, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said the bloc's leaders would formally adopt on Friday a mandate to start talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Kosovo, a first step towards membership.

EU ministers also recommended that Serbia begin membership negotiations by the very latest in January 2014.

"The recommendations of the EU's general affairs council are very important for Kosovo but also for the Balkans," Hoxhaj said in Ljubljana.

"Without having a clear perspective for Kosovo towards membership, our independence cannot flourish. We can develop our economy and our society just in the European context," he added.

Serbia and Kosovo -- which Pristina broke away from in 2008 -- struck an historic agreement on April 19 to normalise their ties.

Now, "the European perspective could be the main motivator for Kosovo and Serbia to implement the agreement on the ground," Hoxhaj said.

Brussels has made clear that both sides must implement the terms of the April agreement before moving forward on the road to eventual EU membership.

Croatia's entry into the EU on July 1 -- the second former Yugoslav state only to do so -- will also "create a new moment, a new energy" for Kosovo and the region, Hoxhaj argued.